Friday, June 27, 2008

Eugene Robinson on the Court Ruling

I have always been impressed with Eugene Robinson's columns, and he didn't disappoint this morning, either. Aside from his skittishness about the practical effects of the court repeal of D.C.'s handgun ban, he took the words right out of my mouth - especially on questions of jurisprudence and the constitution. Robinson published in a suite of three op-eds, where he was joined by E.J. Dionne and George F. Will. Normally I like E.J. as well, but this morning he was a complete jackass - totally misrepresenting Scalia's majority opinion. George Will irks me from the other side of the aisle. But Robinson presented a simple and reasonable approach:

When the Constitution says "no" it means "no." In the many instances where the constitution doesn't say anything, you give democratically elected officials the opportunity to shape the contours of policy. The constitution simply says that gun ownership cannot be outlawed in the U.S.. It doesn't say that it can't be regulated or that it can't be ruled on by the powers that be, much like speech and association. These rights are guaranteed and unfettered - but can be reasonably managed. Outright bans, like D.C.'s (and perhaps gun laws in other cities) fly in the face of our constitutional rights - but sensible regulations based on local opinion do not fly in the face of the constitution. I think this perspective was stated very clearly by Scalia as well, unlike Breyer's dissent - which threw all constitutional constraints on government into question (if not out the window).

I like this perspective on constitutional rights and American liberty particularly because it overcomes the libertarians' stranglehold on what freedom means in America. Freedom does not mean a weak, complacent, lazy government - freedom is perfectly compatible with what Hamilton and Madison called an "energetic" government, so long as bedrock liberties are guaranteed. We need an (1.) energetic federal system that (2.) decentralizes questions most appropriately handled by the states that is (3.) also well corralled by the strictures of the constitution. If you remove any one of these three components, you risk threatening the other two. This recent Supreme Court decision lays out a very similar constitutional philosophy and I am very pleased by it. I look forward to seeing the District erect a strict, stern system regulating gun possession that is consistent with the unique needs and wishes of its residents, and also consistent with the rights guaranteed by the constitution.

Note: this very constitutional philosophy was completely abandoned by Scalia in his recent opinion the rights of Guantanamo detainees, which shows how much work there is left to do to shore up constitutional democracy in this country.

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