Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor told a senator Thursday that she would follow a historic ruling affirming Americans' right to own guns for self-defense, but pro-gun activists said they still believe she'd work to limit gun rights if confirmed for the high court.
Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said Sotomayor told him during a private meeting that she considers the 2008 ruling that struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban as settled law that would guide her decisions in future cases. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that individuals have a constitutional right to guns.
But the statement gave little comfort to gun rights activists. Conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said that earlier in the week, Sotomayor told him in a similar closed-door session that she stood by an appellate court decision she signed this year that said the Second Amendment protection from curbs on the right to bear arms applied only to federal laws -- not state or local ones. That ruling, Maloney v. Cuomo, left it up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the rights recognized in the Heller case applied throughout the country.
The dueling statements called attention to a simmering and politically fraught debate over gun rights that transcends partisan lines. The issue is a tricky one for many Democrats who, like Udall, hail from conservative-leaning states in the South and West and often find themselves at odds with their party's liberal leaders' strong support for gun control measures. They're under intense pressure from gun rights advocates to oppose Sotomayor's nomination, so pinning her down on the topic is a major concern.
My rule would also preclude reporters from characterizing as "dueling statements" statements that in each case reflect a willingness to abide by judicial precedent. Allow me to explain. Sotomayor indicated that she has every intention of following the precedent established by the Supreme Court's recent decision in Heller, which binds the Federal Government in recognition of an individual right to own guns. However, Sotomayor was also a member of a 2nd Circuit panel that earlier this year issued an opinion in Maloney v. Cuomo ruling that the 2nd Amendment doesn't similarly apply to state and local governments. In their opinion, the panel plainly indicated that they were bound by an 1886 Supreme Court opinion, Presser v. Illinois wherein the Court held that the 2nd Amendment does not apply to state and local governments. So in both her statement regarding Heller, and her ruling in Maloney, she has indicated her commitment to abide by precedent. Of course this makes no difference to pro-gun organizations, who believe-like many idiotic Americans do-that judges "make" law based solely upon their feelings and their political inclinations:
The Gun Owners of America, another gun rights group, has already come out in strong opposition to Sotomayor and is urging senators to vote against her confirmation.
"We're communicating to the Senate that you may have cast some pro-Second Amendment votes, but those are all going to be canceled out if you vote for her, because when she gets (to the Supreme Court), she's just going to cancel out everything you've voted for anyway," Pratt said. He said the judge has "an unabated hostility to individual gun ownership."
Right, because that's what psychics in the employ of the gun lobby were able to discern I suppose. That statement reeks of the "judicial activist" trope that right-wingers love to drone on about. What they fail to realize (or simply dismiss) is that had Sotomayor done anything other than follow Supreme Court precedent in the Maloney incident, she would've been guilty of the worst kind of judicial activism, ignoring direct precedent to reach a politically convenient opinion. It's easy to say this because no less a conservative judge than Judge Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit signed onto a decision earlier this month that held that the 2nd Amendment did not apply to the states, also because he felt that his court was constrained by Supreme Court precedent that spoke directly to the matter at hand. The pro-gun lobby isn't happy with that outcome either, but they don't run around protesting Eeasterbrook's "unabated hostility to individual gun ownership" because, well, that would just be stupid.
So-at least in this instance-Sotomayor indicates that she carefully considers the binding nature of precedent when issuing a ruling on a matter. This is the exact opposite of the definition of "judicial activism", though the pro-gun lobby's psychics would like you to think otherwise I guess.