McDonald amicus: Don’t trust Fairman and Berger

Erik S. Jaffe has written a very interesting brief for the CalGuns Foundation. In short, the argument is: “Charles Fairman’s and Raoul Berger’s Work on Fourteenth Amendment Incorporation of the Bill of Rights Is Deeply Flawed, Inaccurate, and Should Not Be Relied Upon by this Court.”

To make a long story short, during the latter half of the 20th century, Fairman and Berger were the pre-eminent legal scholars opposed to incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Fairman was a close ally of Justice Felix Frankfurter. In the 1949 case Adamson v. California, Justice Black (with support from two other Justices) wrote an dissent arguing for total incorporation of the Bill of Rights; the dissent included a lengthy appendix with selections from the congressional ratification debates on the Amendment.

Fairman and Berger both looked at original-period sources, and argued for merely selective incorporation (Fairman) or no incorporation (Berger). Their views were later challenged by, inter alia, Michael Kent Curtis, Richard Aynes, and Akhil Amar. The Curtis v. Berger pro/con articles in the law reviews are some of the harshest exchanges I’ve ever read between two legal scholars. The brief’s Table of Authorities provides a list of key law review articles, if you want to study the history of the debate.

The brief’s main argument, which I find persuasive, is that Fairman and Berger really did grossly misread Jonathan Bingham and the early history of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, the Court in McDonald v. Chicago should not be guided by their views.

And for those VC readers who have been playing Aldridge’s Bingham for the last seven hours, you better tap another keg.