Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Yesterday in SCOTUS

It was a mixed day, not surprising given the 4-4-1 divide (with Kennedy as the swing vote). The good news:

The US Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal by the Vatican in a landmark case that opens the way for priests in the United States to stand trial for pedophilia.

Allowing a federal appeals court ruling to stand, the decision means Vatican officials including theoretically Pope Benedict XVI could face questioning under oath related to a litany of child sex abuse cases.

The Supreme Court effectively confirmed the decision of an appellate court to lift the Vatican's immunity in the case of an alleged pedophile priest in the northwestern state of Oregon.

A public law school did not violate the First Amendment by withdrawing recognition from a Christian student group that excluded gay students, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The case, involving a clash between religious freedom and antidiscrimination principles, divided along familiar ideological lines, with the court's four more liberal members and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said it was constitutionally permissible for public institutions of higher education to require recognized student groups to accept all students who wished to participate in them.

The bad news:

The Second Amendment provides Americans a fundamental right to bear arms that cannot be violated by state and local governments, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates.

The 5 to 4 decision does not strike down any gun-control laws, nor does it elaborate on what kind of laws would offend the Constitution. One justice predicted that an "avalanche" of lawsuits would be filed across the country asking federal judges to define the boundaries of gun ownership and government regulation.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the opinion for the court's dominant conservatives, said: "It is clear that the Framers... counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty."

For a deeper look at the gun-rights case, see Jack Balkin and Scott Lemieux. Unfortunately, it seems to have been the right decision, legally speaking, even if it won't mean much. As Balkin notes, "[t]he vast majority of states already have guarantees of a right to bear arms."

I would just add that the ongoing Second Amendment debate in the U.S. is ridiculous. Yes, Alito is right, the Framers added "the right to keep and bear arms" to the Constitution," and may have considered that right to be "fundamental," but basing public policy in 2010 on what the Framers thought was important in 1787, right after a bloody war of independence and when the country was young and insecure, is simply the wrong way to go about addressing contemporary issues and problems. As Melissa McEwan puts it:

And that's still relevant 200 years later, despite the fact that the Framers, as ingenuous as they were, did not envision a country of 300 million+ people where almost everyone is literate and almost every adult can vote. Nor did they imagine handguns, which didn't fucking exist.

For more, see Echidne (linked by Melissa), whose anger and frustration I share (even if they the issue isn't as immediate for me, as I live in Canada, which has, compared to the U.S., strong gun laws in place):

My first thought on reading this is that desperate unemployed people can't get jobs or help from the local government but their right to be armed is honored! That makes for a really happy society in which to live.

My second thought was the one I always have when reading about the Second Amendment, which is to try to stretch my poor brain to make the leap from "well-regulated militia" to Bob-can-have-a-rifle-in-his-pants.

And so on...

What a mad, mad, mad world it is.

But at least there was a firm ruling against anti-gay bigotry, and at least Catholic sex abusers can be held accountable in courts of law for what they've done.

A mixed day indeed, even as Americans continue to arm themselves towards Armageddon.

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