Wednesday, November 28, 2012
The central argument of ConLawProf Allen Rostron's article, Justice Breyer’s Triumph in the Third Battle over the Second Amendment, published at 80 George Washington Law Review 703 (2012), and available in draft on ssrn, received further validation with yesterday's Second Circuit opinion upholding a New York law restricting concealed carrying of firearms in public.
Rostron (pictured) considers the range of lower court decisions resulting from challenges to state and local firearm regulations made possible by the Court's recent Second Amendment decisions. Heller v. District of Columbia, the first "battle" in the gun wars, recognized a Second Amendment right beyond the militia, and in the second battle of 2010, the Court in McDonald v. City of Chicago, incorporated this right to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in neither "battle" did the Supreme Court specify what level of scrutiny or test should be used to assess the validity of gun laws under the Second Amendment, leaving the lower courts to struggle with this issue.
Rostron's contribution is his engagement with the third "battle": the interpretation and application of Heller and McDonald in the lower courts. He argues that the third phase of the fight over the right to keep and bear arms is moving toward an unusual result, with these decisions reflecting the "pragmatic sentiments of Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinions in Heller and McDonald," rather than the majority, plurality, or concurring opinions that are long on history and rhetoric and short on doctrine or guidance.
Rostron is candid about his own preferences and equally candid that the politics or doctrine could shift, including the Court's grant of certiorari in an additional case in order to promulgate a strict scrutiny standard. For now, however, Rostron's compelling article demonstrates that Breyer's dissent operates in many ways as a majority opinion.
Of course, if Breyer's view had prevailed in the controversial 5-4 decisions in Heller and McDonald, the federal courts would not be busily adjudicating these Second Amendment challenges.