Friday, June 27, 2008

Civil rights take a step from the brink

As everyone reading this blog probably knows, the US Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Scalia, opined that the right to keep and bear arms is, in fact, an individual right. I think this ruling was the best possible outcome of the Heller case.

Bottom line: the civil libertarians won one. I'm a hardcore civil libertarian, so I'm naturally overjoyed. At the same time, the 5-4 decision illustrated just how precarious our civil rights are. The closeness of that decision will likely motivate a lot of people with an interest in civil rights to come out and vote in the next election.

I think that the vast majority of Americans are pro-civil rights, though many allow other factors to influence their decisions. However, if civil rights can be emphasized soon before an election, then it is more likely, in my opinion, that the pro-civil rights candidates will win.

In the short term, this ruling was bad for the Obama campaign. Obama has had to flip-flop on his earlier support of DC gun control laws; his credentials as a constitutional scholar are somewhat dimininshed since he opposed what has now become the Supreme legal opinion; the closeness of the ruling will likely emphasize civil liberties (not Obama's strong suit) as a campaign issue.

McCain certainly has civil liberties problems, such as the McCain-Feingold bill, but Obama probably won't be able to make an effective issue out of McCain-Feingold, given his (Obama's) strong stated support for "campaign finance reform," (i.e. incumbent-protection laws) in the past. In my opinion, the civil liberty on which McCain and Obama have the strongest disagreement, and for which it's therefore the easiest to separate the two, is the right to keep and bear arms. By putting this particular civil liberty front and center in the news, and by illustrating just how close we came to having the government try to remove an enumerated right from the Constitution, the Heller case and it's outcome is a disaster for Obama's electoral prospects.

Oh, and by the way, there is a University of California angle in the story of the road to Heller, largely in the person of Michael A. Bellesiles, BA UC Santa Cruz, and PhD UC Irvine. Given the emphasis of this blog over the last several posts, I just thought I would point that out.

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