Here is my full column that ran last week in the Washington County Daily News. I’m glad to see that the rest of the rulings continued this theme.
It was a blockbuster week of rulings from the Supreme Court of the Unites States. With a few more important rulings to be released this week, we see a positive trend emerging from the rulings. SCOTUS is stripping back the power of government and returning it to the people.
Arguably the two most important rulings of this session have to do with gun rights and abortion. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the court was asked to evaluate if New York’s restrictive gun laws violated the 2nd Amendment. The law in New York prohibits people from carrying a firearm unless they obtain a permit to do so from the government. To obtain the permit, the applicant must cite a specific reason and it is up to the arbitrary judgment of the government official as to whether the given reason is good enough to get a permit. SCOTUS struck down New York’s gun restrictions. What is interesting, however, is that the court did not strike it down based on the 2nd Amendment protection of the right to keep and bear arms. Instead, the court struck it down based on the 14th Amendment’s protection for citizens being denied “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Taking the rights guaranteed in the 2nd Amendment as already clarified by earlier case law, Justice Clarence Thomas brilliantly sums up the ruling by saying, “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.”
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court issued a narrower ruling that, “the Constitution does not confer a right to an abortion.” Thus, “the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
Abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, but in Roe v. Wade the earlier court engaged in judicial activism to thrust the power of the federal government into the regulation of abortion. In Dobbs, the court corrected that wrong and transferred the power to regulate abortion from the unelected federal court system to the elected representatives of the people. This is how it was up until Roe.
While the court did confirm that aborting a baby is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution, it did not say that the Constitution protects someone from being aborted. The Constitution does protect citizens from being deprived of life without due process, but to make such a ruling, the court would have had to define when life begins. That was not the question before the court and to rule on that issue would have been an act of judicial overreach. Perhaps a future court will have the opportunity to consider that question.
In both cases, we see the court reducing the power of government. In the case of Bruen, the court checked any government from restricting the 2nd Amendment without the same kind of extraordinary justifications we require of government to restrict other rights enumerated in the Constitution. This will have a cooling effect on zealous gun grabbers.
In the case of Dobbs, the court returned the power to regulate abortion to the people to exercise through their elected representatives. While the federal legislature could take up the issue, reaching a consensus across the broad ideological spectrum represented in the national legislature would be difficult. The state legislatures will more practically take up the arduous task of regulating such a politically contentious issue. Since the government closest to you generally governs the best (a reliable, if not unfailing, truism), the court’s ruling has empowered the people.
As the courts final rulings are released, we may hope to see more of this trend of limiting the power of government and returning powers heretofore usurped by government to the people.