The Deadly Supreme Court

Jesse Jackson | 7/3/2008, 5:58 p.m.
More people will die from gunshots due to the decision of five right-wing Supreme Court Justices to overturn the District ...

More people will die from gunshots due to the decision of five right-wing Supreme Court Justices to overturn the District of Columbia law banning handguns in the District.

To reach their ruling, the gang of five had to distort the clear meaning of the words of the Second Amendment and reinvent the intent of the Founders. They had to trample the wishes of a popularly elected local government and throw out a 32-year-old law. They had to ignore 69 years of Supreme Court precedents holding that the Second Amendment applied, as its words say, to the rights of states to sustain a militia. And they had to decide to do this despite the fact that they could only muster a bare one-vote majority -- the five votes of the conservative justices -- for the opinion.

In Bush vs. Gore, the indefensible decision that shut down a popular vote count in Florida in the presidential race and effectively appointed Bush president, a similar gang of five revealed how partisan they were prepared to be. In the D.C. handgun case, they demonstrated the extent to which they are activist, conservative ideologues, quite willing to legislate from the bench.

This disgrace gives the lie to John McCain’s rhetoric. McCain says he doesn’t want judges who legislate from the bench, and will appoint judges in the tradition of Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. It’s like saying you stand firmly for night against day, and for day against night, for up against down and for down against up. Scalia, Alito, Clarence Thomas and John Roberts are right-wing activist judges, willing to abandon judicial restraint to enforce the right’s political agenda. When McCain pledges to appoint more judges like them, he is promising to appoint a majority of the Supreme Court that will enforce a right-wing agenda that a growing majority of Americans reject.

In order to win the fifth vote, that of Justice Anthony Kennedy, Scalia had to accept that the Second Amendment allows sensible gun control. This has already begun to generate a flood of new cases, as the gun nut lobby tries to overturn gun-control laws across the country.

Here’s the reality that the gang of five simply ignored. Cities like Chicago desperately need strong gun-control laws. Guns are not made in Chicago; the big gun stores are all in the suburbs. Chicago needs laws that require extensive background checks of potential buyers, and that limit the number of guns someone can buy. Straw buyers purchase guns by the dozens and then resell them to street gangs. There is no possible reason a gun owner needs to buy more than one gun a month.

Similarly, Chicago and other cities need limits on the kind of weapons sold. President Bush allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire, at the behest of the NRA. But assault weapons aren’t necessary to defend your home. They aren’t useful in hunting deer or shooting doves. They are killer guns, putting police at risk. And worse, in an age of terror, they provide the capacity to shoot down airplanes, or shoot up shopping centers.

America is the most heavily armed society in the world. And it has the highest rate of gun homicides in the world. Guns are more likely to be used to kill a relative than a robber. The decision of the gang of four is a boon to the gun industry and a nightmare to neighborhoods across America. It indicates that the right-wing majority in the Court has lost all claim to judicial temperament. The gang of five is simply part of the right, not part of the tradition of American rights.

You can write to the Rev. Jesse Jackson care of this newspaper or by e-mail at jjackson@rainbowpush.org.