Though it is sometimes easy to forget, constitutional cases have real-world consequences for the lives of real people. When judges abdicate their responsibilities, the consequences for individuals are frequently dire—homes and livelihoods are destroyed, voices are censored, and victims are left with no meaningful recourse. But the results of judicial engagement are equally important. When judges properly engage with the facts and the law of each case, there are direct benefits for individual rights—and a striking absence of the sorts of dire consequences often promised by the proponents of judicial abdication.
District of Columbia v. Heller
CONTEXT: In Washington, D.C., federal security guard Dick Heller carried a handgun for protection when he was doing his day job—but the city’s laws made it illegal for him to take that handgun home at night after work to protect himself in his own home. With the help of Institute for Justice lawyer Clark Neily, IJ Board Member Bob Levy, and lead counsel (and former IJ law clerk) Alan Gura, Heller filed a Second Amendment challenge to Washington, D.C.’s ban on keeping handguns and other functional firearms at home for self defense.
In a landmark 2008 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that law. Instead of blindly accepting the District’s spurious argument in support of its gun ban, the Court carefully engaged with the text and history of the Second Amendment, which it correctly found to protect a basic right to armed self-defense in the home—a right clearly violated by D.C.’s complete gun ban.
CONSEQUENCE: Individuals in Washington, D.C. may now exercise their right to keep a handgun at home for lawful self defense. And while litigation continues over the precise nature and scope of the right recognized in Heller (as it does with respect to all other constitutional rights), individuals nationwide now enjoy a constitutionally protected right to own firearms to defend themselves and their homes.