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Retired Supreme Court justice explains how to fix the Second Amendment

As was noted in yesterday’s Weekly Briefing, “A Tax Day sermon,” it can be a fascinating exercise to briefly contemplate just how far to the right American politics have been pushed in the last few decades as a result of the influx of big corporate money.

“In 2014, the United States is a place: in which a deranged Nevada cattle herder named Cliven Bundy can defy federal law and be transformed overnight into a far right celebrity, in which the party of Lincoln in one of the stronghold union states of the Civil War can vote to explore secession, in which conservative religious groups who claim to follow the teachings of a humble and un-propertied carpenter can champion tax cuts for the rich and in which North Carolina — one of the old confederate states that has made such great headway in escaping its dreadful and reactionary past – can roll back several decades of painstaking progress toward modernity in as many months.”

Here’s another rather amazing indicator: the nation’s disastrous abandonment of the settled meaning of the Second Amendment. In his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution” (an excerpt of which appeared recently in the Washington Post) retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (a 1975 Ford appointee) proposes returning the Second Amendment to its long-settled meaning by adding five words (italicized below) so that it would read:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

Stevens’ proposal makes obvious sense and the fact that we would have to go to such trouble shows just how far out of hand things have gotten. Here’s another amazing indicator from Stevens’ book of our mass, national departure from common sense: a quote Stevens attributes to former Chief Justice Warren Burger — another conservative Republican. This is from Stevens’ book:

“When I joined the court in 1975, that holding was generally understood as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything.

Organizations such as the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and mounted a vigorous campaign claiming that federal regulation of the use of firearms severely curtailed Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on ‘The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,’ Burger himself remarked that the Second Amendment ‘has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.’” (Emphasis supplied).

To which all a caring and thinking person can add is: “Amen (and amend).”

One Comment

  1. Sean D Sorrentino

    April 16, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    It’s rather embarrassing that a person who sat on the Supreme Court for almost 35 years is unable to remember the definition of “militia” in the US. Luckily, 10 U.S. Code § 311 helpfully defines it for us. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/311

    (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

    And NC law, signed recently by Governor Perdue is even less discriminatory. It includes women and does not have an age limit. http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/BySection/Chapter_127A/GS_127A-1.html

    § 127A-1. Composition of militia.

    The militia of the State shall consist of all able-bodied citizens of the State and of the United States and all other able-bodied persons who have or shall declare their intention to become citizens of the United States, subject to the qualifications prescribed in this Chapter, who shall be drafted into the militia or shall voluntarily accept commission, appointment, or assignment to duty therein. (1917, c. 200, s. 1; C.S., s. 6791; 1949, c. 1130, s. 1; 1957, c. 1043, s. 1; 1963, c. 1016, s. 2; 1967, c. 563, s. 1; 1975, c. 604, s. 2; 2011-195, s. 1(a).)

    So much for that argument, Rob.