Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Supreme Rulings

The Supreme Court handed down a couple of interesting rulings yesterday as it wraps up the term and Justice John Paul Stevens retires.

The court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment applies to all state and local governments.

The decision extended the court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that “the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home.” That decision applied only to federal laws and federal enclaves such as Washington; it was the first time the court had said there was an individual right to gun ownership rather than one related to military service.

Monday’s decision might be more symbolic than substantive, at least initially. No cities have laws as restrictive as the handgun bans in the District and in Monday’s case from Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park. Although the court’s decision did not specifically strike down those laws, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said it will make the city’s 28-year-old law “unenforceable.”

This will keep the NRA happy for a while, at least until they come up with some other threat to guns that they’ll use to raise money. And while it was somewhat a study in foregone conclusions after the ruling in 2008, it still does not address the real-world issue of effective law enforcement at the local level in dealing with guns. It’s also ironic that people who normally support the states’ rights point of view when it comes to federal interference are only too happy to have the Supreme Court step in and re-write the local laws. I guess they’re in love with the Supremes when they rule in their favor.

Adam Serwer notes, “The gun wars are pretty much over, and the gun rights side won. One wonders when they’ll will figure it out.” Frankly, I don’t think they will. The NRA makes its fortune — and buys off Congress and state legislators — by being the perpetual victim. They know all too well that their members are tinged with paranoia: Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are, at this very moment, drawing up plans to go house-to-house with their jack-booted thugs to seize everything from AK-47’s to the “ladies’ companion” derringer that grandma keeps in her knitting basket. Now they want to go after licensing gun dealers and registration, making the case that if gun ownership is a Constitutional right, then why should they need a license to exercise it? After all, bookstores aren’t licensed. No, they’re not, but I don’t think anyone was ever robbed by someone threatening them with a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

I don’t have a problem with the NRA standing up for the Second Amendment. But when they get to the point of such ferocity that if it was the First Amendment they were guarding, they could make the case for child pornography, then I have a problem with it. The ruling by the Supreme Court may be correct in terms of legal issues and interpretation, but it won’t make life any easier for the enforcement of other laws.

In another ruling, though, the righties might not be so pleased with the Court’s finding that religious groups at a public university are not entitled to public funds when they discriminate against people they don’t like.

The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and regards ”unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” as being inconsistent with that faith.

But Hastings, which is in San Francisco, said no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

The court on a 5-4 judgment upheld the lower court rulings saying the Christian group’s First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college’s nondiscrimination policy.

”In requiring CLS — in common with all other student organizations — to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion for the court’s liberals and moderate Anthony Kennedy. ”CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.”

Basically the Court is saying that a religious group is free to hate gay people; they just can’t do it with public funding. Of course this flies in the face of the well-known legal precedent that is common among the Religious Right: gay-bashing is a fundamental right,it is anti-religious bigotry if anyone says it isn’t, and they deserve special rights to object to gays and lesbians getting equal rights.