Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Michael Waldman, writing over at Politico, tells the story of how the NRA rewrote the Second Amendment, not through the Article V process, but through persistent and carefully calculated political action and legal argument. Over time, the NRA's position worked its way into the consciousness of politicians and judges and lawyers and ordinary people, until Heller seemed to many (and obviously most on the Court) like an inevitability. That process--and not raw legal argument, not some new and significant historical find, and certainly not a constitutional amendment--is how we got the individual right to keep and carry guns, according to Waldman.
Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, writes on the occasion of the release of his latest book, The Second Amendment: A Biography.
Waldman's piece in Politico is as much about the political process of constitutional change as it is about the Second Amendment. In that way, it's a how-to for anyone interested in influencing the direction of constitutional law outside the amendment process, and a healthy reminder that a well organized movement can still influence the direction of American constitutional law:
So how does legal change happen in America? We've seen some remarkably successful drives in recent years--think of the push for marriage equality, or to undo campaign finance laws. Law students might be taught that the court is moved by powerhouse legal arguments or subtle shifts in doctrine. The National Rifle Association's long crusade to bring its interpretation of the Constitution into the mainstream teaches a different lesson: Constitutional change is the product of public argument and political maneuvering. The pro-gun movement may have started with scholarship, but then it targeted public opinion and shifted the organs of government. By the time the issue reached the Supreme Court, the desired new doctrine fell like a ripe apple from a tree.