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U.S. Supreme Court

Second Amendment Ruling Is Justice Scalia’s Originalism ‘Legacy’

Posted Jun 27, 2008 6:25 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The majority ruling yesterday by Justice Antonin Scalia finding a Second Amendment right to own handguns in the home is “his most important in his 22 years on the court,” according to a New York Times story.

Scalia has a no-compromise style that often leads to loss of his colleagues’ votes, USA Today reports. But yesterday’s 5-4 decision has observers suggesting it is a symbol of the influence of the 72-year-old Scalia.

Scalia has long argued that the meaning of the Constitution should be evaluated based on originalism, which he defined in a 60 Minutes interview this way: "[Originalism is] what did the words mean to the people who ratified the Bill of Rights and the Constitution."

In an interview with Legal Times, Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis noted that Scalia's emphasis on originalism had an impact on both the justices in the majority and the dissent in yesterday's decision, District of Columbia v. Heller.

Said McGinnis: "All justices adopted an originalist approach, suggesting that originalism commands consensus support, at least when the issue is whether a right that is in the Constitution can be restricted."

Supreme Court litigator Thomas Goldstein makes a similar point. “This case really is his legacy,” Goldstein told USA Today. “Not only is the issue fantastically important, but the way the case was decided—on the basis of history and the original understanding [of the Framers]— is his great contribution to the law. That he could keep five votes with so many issues in play shows how far he has moved the law."

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