Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Business as Usual at the Supreme Court?

So oral arguments in McDonald v. Chicago were made before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. While the court is widely expected to rule that the Second Amendment does apply to state and local governments, attorney Alan Gura arguing for the plaintiff received a somewhat hostile reception as he made the case for reviving the original intent of the 14th Amendment’s “privileges or immunities” clause, which had been mostly nullified by a previous ruling in A.D. 1873.

This seemed odd, since the High Court’s dicta in D.C. v. Heller appeared to invite a new look at this very issue. The more cynical observers were quick to suggest that the whole thing might have been a setup. Perhaps, they argued, the “conservative” members of the court wanted the issue before them specifically to kill “privileges or immunities” for another century or two.

Why? Because a fully realized 14th Amendment would revolutionize the civil-rights movement. That the Bill of Rights applies in all its glory to the states as well as to the federal government could no longer be denied. Minority groups still fighting for their share of American liberty would also have an easier time of it.

On the other hand, one well-educated correspondent of mine pointed out that the exchange resembled an academic thesis defense. The faculty may savage the student, but if his arguments are sound, his diploma will be secured. Viewed from this perspective, the proceedings can look much more promising for a reading of the 14th Amendment that is finally right and proper.

In any case, it looked like business as usual at the Supreme Court, but we probably won’t know for sure until June.