by Patrick Krey, The New American
There are few topics that can divide people who are normally ideological bedfellows like the legal doctrine of the â€œincorporationâ€ of the Bill of Rights against the states and the Second Amendment. This subject is rearing its head again with the upcoming appointment of a new Supreme Court justice as well as federal courts’ recent conflicting opinions in regards to the Second Amendment.
The Wall Street Journal reports that on June 2nd, â€œA federal appeals court in Chicago ruled â€¦ that the Second Amendment doesn’t bar state or local governments from regulating guns, adopting the same position that Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, did when faced with the same question earlier this year.â€
This ruling contrasts with a recent ruling by â€œthe U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco … that the Second Amendment is incorporated against the states and local governmentsâ€ â€” in other words, states and local governments are bound by the Second Amendment. Which court is correct?
To understand the debate in this topic, it helps to briefly review constitutional history. When the Constitution was first proposed, opponents of the new document criticized it for lacking a bill of enumerated rights, which were common in virtually every state constitution of the time. In response to these complaints, proponents of the new Constitution agreed to add a series of amendments in the first Congress that would codify restrictions on the federal government to infringe certain fundamental rights. The resulting first 10 Amendments, collectively referred to as the â€œBill of Rights,â€ were ratified on December 15, 1791.
It is important to note two little-known historical facts regarding the proposal and ratification of the Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton, himself a prominent advocate of a liberal reading of the necessary and proper clause as well as a loose construction of the Constitution, argued that a Bill of Rights would be dangerous because it would imply that without such an enumeration of rights, the new government might actually have the power to infringe on these rights and might even now open the door for the government to regulate in these areas. In Federalist # 84, Hamilton wrote:
I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? â€¦ I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government.
Hamilton basically was saying that the national government lacked the power to do any of the things that the proposed Bill of Rights were prohibiting, and codifying these restrictions might lead some to argue that the national government could actually regulate in those areas, which he felt was completely unconstitutional.
In addition, James Madison, widely regarded as â€œThe Father of the Constit