NRA brief in McDonald v. Chicago

Last night, Orin noted the filing of the Petitioner’s brief in McDonald v. Chicago, the case that will decide whether the 14th Amendment makes the 2d Amendment applicable to state and local governments. As Orin noted, that brief is almost entirely devoted to incorporation under the Privileges or Immunities clause. It directly asks the Court to over-rule Slaughterhouse, Cruikhank, and Presser.

In my view, it’s a superb brief. It’s worthy of study by law students and anyone else who wants a great example of legal writing that is passionate and forceful, yet also sober and serious.

In the brief’s short discussion of Due Process, attorney Alan Gura aptly writes: “A ‘law’ depriving one of life, liberty or property ‘must not have exceeded the limits of legislative power marked by natural and customary rights.'” (quoting Frederick Gedicks, An Originalist Defense of Substantive Due Process: Magna Carta, Higher-Law Constitutionalism, and the Fifth Amendment, 58 Emory L.J. 585, 644-45 (2009).) This is an important point; “substantive due process” may be ill-named, but it is founded on legitimate, originalist doctrine.

Many folks have been wondering why the Gura brief concentrates so heavily on the bolder theory (Privileges or Immunities) rather than the one that courts have used over the last century (Due Process). Here’s the answer: After Heller, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and the National Rifle Association each filed separate lawsuits against the Chicago handgun ban. The cases were consolidated in the Seventh Circuit; after the panel ruled, SAF and NRA each filed separate petitions for certiorari. The Supreme Court granted cert. in the SAF case, McDonald v. Chicago. A few weeks later, the Court added NRA to the case as a party. So NRA is now a “Respondent in Support of Petitioners.” The suburb of Oak Park, which had been sued by NRA but not by SAF, was also added as a party.

So as a party, NRA filed its brief yesterday. The lead attorneys on the brief are Stephen Poss (attorney of record), Stephen Halbrook, and others. The NRA brief takes the more conservative approach. It mainly argues for incorporation via Due Process, with only a brief discussion of Privileges or Immunities. NRA does not ask for any cases to be over-ruled, since Slaughterhouse, Cruikshank, and Presser are all P or I cases, and predate the Court’s recognition of selective Due Process incorporation.

Because the Question Presented by the Court asked about both P or I and Due Process incorporation, it was appropriate that one party brief focused on the former, and the other party brief on the latter.

Amicus briefs (including one I am writing) in support of Petitioners are due Monday, Nov. 23. The Chicago and Oak Park briefs are due Dec. 30, since the Court granted them a two-week extension. Amicus briefs in support of the Chicago and Oak Park handgun bans are due one week after that.

When the amicus briefs start appearing a few days, I will blog about the most important or interesting ones.

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