Monday the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Second Amendment-rights case McDonald v. Chicago. The majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, affirmed what many of us have known all along: that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, not to be infringed by any government, whether federal, state, or local. This elevates the Second Amendment from what law professor Glenn Reynolds calls its status as “a neglected stepchild that has been interpreted out of existence,” and finally restores its rightful standing as full-fledged constitutional law, despite John Hall’s disappointing absence among its defenders.
The case was brought by several Chicago residents, including retiree Otis McDonald, as a dispute over a total ban on registration of handguns (effectively banning handguns altogether for civilians) passed and enforced by the City of Chicago. The citizens argued that the City’s ban conflicted with their rights under the Constitution. A federal district court and the Seventh Circuit didn’t agree, both finding for the City; thus the case rose to the national level as the Chicagoans ascended the Supreme Court steps.
An earlier Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, had already established in 2008 that the Second Amendment is indeed an individual right that extends past the collective purpose of arming state militias, but, since that case was brought by a D.C. resident, Heller only applied to federal gun regulation. Now the McDonald decision takes it further, “incorporating” the individual right to bear arms; that is, finding that this individual right extends to state- and local-level gun control measures as well. This marks a key step toward legitimizing the Second Amendment, at long last, as a fully realized article of the Bill of Rights at all levels of government, right up there with the First, Fourth, and Fifth.
The case garnered an impressive 33 “friend of the court” briefs, including one backing McDonald et al. drafted jointly by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Jon Tester (D-MT), and signed by 56 other senators and 251 House members urging the Court to affirm the Second Amendment for individual citizens. Despite the fact that this brief was signed by more members of Congress than any “friend of the court” brief in history, one member was notably absent: Rep. John Hall refused to rally to the Constitution’s defense by putting his name to the brief. It happens that his name was also missing from a similar brief submitted to the Court during Heller, signed by more than half the members of Congress.
That’s twice in two years, at crucial points in its legal history, that John Hall has failed to uphold and defend the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. The good news is that his ongoing conflict with the Constitution went the Constitution’s way this time.