JUSTICE: FOR OR AGAINST THE SECOND AMENDMENT? A COMMENTARY ON PRESIDENT OBAMA’S NOMINEE FOR ASSOCIATE JUSTICE ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: JUDGE MERRICK GARLAND
JUSTICE GARLAND: A REPLACEMENT FOR JUSTICE SCALIA? NOW, IF ONE DOES NOT SUPPORT THE BILL OF RIGHTS; OR NEVER IF ONE CARES ABOUT AMERICA’S BILL OF RIGHTS!
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S SHORT LIST FOR JUSTICE ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: FIRST, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN; THEN KAGAN; AND NOW, GARLAND
Now that President Obama has nominated a judge to the U.S. Supreme Court, a few pertinent questions arise. What will the Senate do? What ought the Senate do? And, most importantly, what do we, the American people, know about the individual Obama has nominated to replace a respected – indeed, a revered – Supreme Court Justice, a man whose shoes cannot easily be filled, Justice Antonin Scalia.
Before we get to the third question, let us respond briefly to the first two. The U.S. Constitution sets forth the authority of the U.S. President to nominate an individual to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Constitution does so with a most important caveat. Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution sets forth, in pertinent part that the President, “. . . shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court.”
Many news sources are turning this matter into a major spectacle – castigating the U.S. Senate for allegedly dragging its feet in handling this nomination. But, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires the U.S. Senate to do anything. It need not proffer its advice and consent; and, if it does not, then the appointment cannot be made. In this instance the U.S. Senate has good reason not to proffer its advice and consent.
The appointment of a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is not to be taken lightly. The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is for life. A poor decision can undermine the rights and liberties of all Americans. A poor decision can weaken our Republic. The Court’s decisions mold and shape our institutions and impact the life of every American citizen for decades. So, in a very real sense, A U.S. Supreme Court Justice wields more power than the President of the United States. Would President Obama’s nominee truly faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States?
President Barack Obama has, to date, nominated two Justices to the United States Supreme Court, and the U.S. Senate has confirmed them. They are Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, two liberal-wing Justices. No one can reasonably contest the sufficiency of the legal and judicial experience of these two Justices; nor can anyone reasonably contest the intellectual acumen of Justices Kagan and Sotomayor. In most cases, Americans may reasonably assume that the individuals, nominated by the United States President and subsequently confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, do have the necessary intellectual gifts, necessary moral stature and character, and necessary experience to serve as Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. But is that enough?
Many news sources suggest that the academic credentials of a nominee, along with that nominee’s intellectual capacity, and along with the breadth and depth of that nominee’s judicial and legal experiences, and, along with that nominee’s necessary moral bearing, stature and character are all the factors the U.S. Senate need consider to support confirmation of a nominee to the highest Court in the Land. But are satisfaction of those factors enough. Are those factors, alone, sufficient to support confirmation of a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court? The answer is a resounding, “no.” For, before the United States Senate confirms a nominee, the U.S. Senate should definitely take a close look at the prior judicial decisions of a particular nominee if that nominee had happened to serve in a judicial capacity on a lower court prior to his nomination. Such is no less true of Judge Merrick Garland in the event the U.S. Senate does consider the President’s nominee at all.
The U.S. Senate must ask, and the American public has a right to know, whether a given nominee – if he or she is to ascend to the position of Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court – is truly likely to render decisions faithful to the U.S. Constitution and, in particular, whether that nominee would render decisions supportive of an American citizen’s fundamental rights and liberties as codified in the Bill of Rights. The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, presided by Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican Iowa, obviously has its doubts in the present instance and, rightfully so, and this would account for the Committee’s reluctance to consider President Obama’s nominee – his third – especially since Obama will soon be leaving Office and a Republican Party candidate for U.S. President may very well be taking his place.
Republican Senators are asking and we must ask as well: what do Americans really know about President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland? What is Judge Garland’s position on the Bill of Rights? Is he a strong proponent of individual Rights and Liberties, as codified in the Bill of Rights, or isn’t he?
Each Justice, who presently sits on the U.S. Supreme Court, certainly has a definite idea how he or she construes the Bill of Rights. A few construe the Bill of Rights literally and narrowly, giving particular weight to our founders’ view of it. On this view a U.S. Supreme Court Justice would ascribe to the idea that our founding founders believed that, regardless of the current fashion of any particular age, the import and purport of our fundamental rights and liberties remain constant from one generation to the next. They are not to be tampered with. Justice Scalia certainly fell into this camp. Other Justices tend to consider fundamental rights and liberties of Americans apropos of conditions as they exist in American society and in the world today. Those Justices happen to think our Bill of Rights is malleable; that it is subject to change in accordance with popular opinion vis-à-vis political mandates. They have a decided predilection for legislating from the Bench. The Bill of Rights, though, has nothing to do with one’s being comfortable with it or with particular Amendments within it. The Bill of Rights is what it is. It is not a thing to be toyed with. It is not to be subjugated or changed, along with popular culture. The Bill of Rights defines clearly and explicitly what rights and liberties we, as Americans, are entitled to exercise as a free people, living in a free Republic.
The point here is that a particular philosophy, regarding the Bill of Rights, has considerable impact on how a Justice ultimately will decide a case. An opinion by a simple majority of Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court affects us all. It affects America’s institutions. It affects the very nature of and continued existence of our Nation, as conceived by the founding fathers.
So, contrary to what the left, reporting through a compliant media, maintains, the question the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary must wrestle with extends well beyond a nominee’s native ability, intellectual gifts, judicial and legal experience, and moral bearing and character. The question the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary must wrestle with is subtle and complex. As it pertains to President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, the question goes to the manner in which Judge Garland perceives the Bill of Rights. For, the manner in which Judge Garland perceives our fundamental rights and liberties will color his perception of the cases that come before him. Does he tend to view our fundamental rights and liberties as Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor do – as transitory, ephemeral and infinitely malleable? Or, does Judge Garland view our fundamental rights and liberties in the same vein as Justices Alito and Thomas do, and as Justice Scalia did? Or, perhaps, Judge Garland’s perception of our fundamental rights and liberties fall somewhere in the middle, commensurate with the views of Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, Judge Garland says, “Fidelity to the Constitution has been the cornerstone of my professional life.” Well, one would certainly expect as much. But, that really doesn’t take us anywhere. That assertion doesn’t tell us anything about how Judge Garland would really decide a case involving Americans’ fundamental rights and liberties.
Each current Justice would certainly assert “fidelity to the Constitution,” and that Justice would honestly believe the assertion. The assertion is little more than a platitude. But, within the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights speaks squarely to the fundamental rights and liberties of the people. In any one case before the U.S. Supreme Court, those rights and liberties will be strengthened or weakened by the Majority on the Court.
THE SECOND AMENDMENT
Of the specific Rights and Liberties expressed in the first Eight Amendments – all critical to a Free Republic – none of those Rights and Liberties speak more loudly to the unique character of the United States than does our Second Amendment. In no other Constitution of any other Nation on the face of this Earth does there exist any Right boldly setting forth: “. . . the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Yes, a few nations do permit the citizenry to keep and bear arms but in every such case that “right” is not really a right at all because the purported “right” emanates from government. It does not reside in the people. The “right” expressed is more in the nature of a grant by a nation’s government, or a license, or a privilege.
But, the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution operates as a right in the purest sense – preexistent in each individual. If there exists any doubt about that, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, in the seminal case, District of Columbia vs. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 171 L. Ed. 2d 637 (2008), laid that doubt to rest.
What the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary should really be asking, assuming it decides to consider the matter of Judge Merrick Garland’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court – or not, as consistent with its prerogative under Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution – is this: would Judge Garland if he were to gain the U.S. Supreme Court, tend to weaken or strengthen our Bill of Rights? We can use the Second Amendment as a good example here. How might we explicate this? Just so: would the Heller case have been decided differently if – in a parallel world – Justice Garland had worn the robes of Justice Scalia?
Do we have any clues? Well, we have two important clues. The first involves the case Parker vs. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370 (D.C. Cir. 2007).
Important Note: the Parker case is the seminal Second Amendment Heller case. The Parker case was renamed District of Columbia vs. Heller when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
ANALYSIS OF THE PARKER CASE
The Appellants, Parker and others, are residents of the District of Columbia. They wanted to carry their handguns in their own homes for self-defense, but the District of Columbia prohibits anyone from having an operable handgun in the home for the purposes of immediate self-defense. The Appellants brought action against the District of Columbia, claiming that the D.C. code violated their Second Amendment “right to keep and bear arms.” The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided with the Appellee government, District of Columbia, finding that the D.C. code did not violate Appellants Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms because, according to the U.S. District Court, the “right to bear arms” only accrues to one who serves in a militia.
Appellants, residents of the District of Columbia, appealed. The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia disagreed with the lower Court. Reversing the U.S. District Court’s decision, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dealt squarely with the issue as to the meaning of and impact of the prefatory and operative portions of the Second Amendment and whether, on the one hand, “the right to keep and bear arms” is an individual right, as Appellant, District of Columbia residents maintain, or whether, on the other hand, “the right to keep and bear arms” is a collective right that applies only to those who serve in a militia, as the Appellee, District of Columbia had argues.
In finding for the Appellant residents, against the District of Columbia, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia pointed out that the wording of the operative clause also indicates that “the right to keep and bear arms” was not created by government, but rather preserved by it. The United States Circuit Court of Appeals specifically rejected the Appellee District of Columbia’s claim that the phrase, “keep and bear arms” has only a military purpose related to the “militia.” Two of the three Judges on the Circuit Court sided with the Appellants in the case and thereupon reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court.
The losing party in the Parker case, namely the District of Columbia, then petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for reconsideration, asking the United States Court of Appeals to hear the case en banc. What this means is that the Appellee District Columbia petitioned to have the entire United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia hear the case.
Keep in mind that, although Judge Garland serves as Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, there are several U.S. Circuit Court Judges. Generally, a panel of three Circuit Court Judges hears a case on appeal from the lower District Court.
Judge Garland did not sit on the three-man panel in the Parker case. We are not, though, left merely to speculate as to how he might have ruled in Parker had he served as one of the three original Judges who heard the case. We do have an inkling as to how Judge Garland would have ruled, and therein rests one reason, at least, why the U.S. Senate, on behalf of the American people and on behalf of the well-being of Americans’ Bill of Rights, has no desire to so much as contemplate the nomination, during the remaining months of Obama’s term as U.S. President.
Likely, Judge Garland would have ruled against the Appellant D.C. residents and for the District of Columbia in Parker. We know this because of a further action involving the Parker case that transpired before the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, renamed, District of Columbia vs. Heller.
Now, no party, in any jurisdiction, can insist, as a matter of right, to have an entire United States Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its own decision. A United States Circuit Court of Appeals will do so only if a majority of the Court’s Judges agree to reconsider the decision, in which case the entirety of the Court will rehear the case – that is to say – the Court will hear the case, en banc.
There are ten Judges on the D.C. Circuit. Only four of those ten agreed to hear the Parker case en banc. Notably, Judge Garland was one of those four Judges. The case is Parker vs. District of Columbia, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 11029 (D.C. Cir. 2007).
We really do not need to spend an inordinate amount of time speculating as to why Judge Garland had sought to have the Parker case reheard by all ten United States Circuit Court of Appeals judges. Yes, Judge Garland may have thought – as some news sources infer – that the Second Amendment issue was important enough to warrant a hearing by the entire Court, so that all of the Judges could weigh in. After all, the Parker case dealt directly and squarely with the fundamental right of the people to keep and bear arms. But, likely, there was more to Judge Garland’s desire to have an en banc hearing of the case. And it is just this: if Judge Merrick Garland really feels strongly about Americans’ fundamental rights and liberties, as had Justice Scalia, it is likely that Judge Garland would have voted with the majority of the Court. That means he would have voted against taking up the Second Amendment issue again in an en banc hearing of the case. For, what more could be gained through an en banc hearing of the case? The majority opinion, which supported Appellants’ Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, was clear, and cogent, and unequivocal. Moreover, a vote in favor of an en banc hearing would, quite probably, invite a reversal of the decision by the three member United States Circuit Court of Appeals panel. A true advocate for the Second Amendment would never have voted in favor of a rehearing. Tactically, it would make no sense. Appellants, District of Columbia residents had already won. The case should have stopped there.
Be that as it may, the Appellant, District of Columbia, having failed to secure a rehearing of the Parker case by the full United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia thereupon petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, of course, agreed to hear the case. Parker vs. District of Columbia was renamed District of Columbia vs. Heller. Justice Scalia, writing for the Majority, affirmed the decision of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by a narrow margin: 5 to 4.
Granted, while it is not absolutely clear that Judge Garland would not have voted with the Majority in Heller, had he sat on the U.S. Supreme Court, the fact that he voted for en banc review of Parker, as a Judge sitting on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, strongly suggests an unhappiness with and uneasiness with the panel’s decision — 2 to 1 in favor of Appellant District of Columbia residents — a decision clearly supporting the right of the people to keep and bear arms; hence, we may reasonably conclude a general reluctance on the part of Judge Garland to view the Second Amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms generally favorably and expansively. Imagine, then, Judge Garland’s decision in Heller, had he sat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Would he not have sided with the liberal-wing in that case? And, if so, would not the Heller case have been decided differently? Would not the Heller case reflect the reasoning of the U.S. District Court in Parker, rather than the decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in that case — a U.S. District Court decision specifically undermining rather than strengthening the right of the people to keep and bear arms?
A second and, perhaps, even stronger clue suggesting that Judge Garland is not likely to be a strong proponent of the Second Amendment — and, indeed, someone who is likely to eviscerate the Second Amendment rather than strengthen it — is evidenced from a perusal of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s decision in NRA vs. Reno, 216 F.3d 2000 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Judge Garland did have a hand in that decision and, while the case does not deal directly with the meaning of language in the Second Amendment, the case does deal with matters impacting the Second Amendment, and negatively impacting the Fourth Amendment as well.
In Part 2 of this article, we will explicate the NRA case for you and explain why, more likely than not, Judge Garland is not a proponent of the Second Amendment — not by a long shot — and that, for this reason alone, the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary should not consider Obama’s appointment of Judge Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, as an Associate Justice.
To be continued. . . .Copyright © 2015 Roger J Katz (Towne Criour), Stephen L. D’Andrilli (Publius) All Rights Reserved.