Last March, the District of Columbia saw judicial activism replace the will of the people.
Today, with news that the US Supreme Court has taken the appeal of DC v. Heller, the Justices can set things right.
Over 30 years ago, the elected representatives on the DC City Council decided to enact a system of strict gun laws to help protect public safety. The people in DC strongly support these laws. The District's police strongly favor them as well.
The District's decision has been attacked over and over again by outside interests more concerned with pleasing the gun lobby than respecting the will of the people. Some in Congress have tried multiple times to overrule the District's preference for strict gun regulations, but have failed each time.
In 2003, however, a wealthy benefactor decided to fund a challenge in Federal court to the District's strong gun laws. A fellow of the libertarian Cato Institute, his argument lost soundly at trial.
On appeal to the Federal circuit court, however, two judges handed him a "victory." They decided to ignore almost 70 years of Supreme Court precedent [pdf], over 200 years of American history [pdf], and even the text of the Constitution itself [pdf]. In so doing, they imposed their own policy preferences on the people of DC.
It was a textbook example of judicial activism at its worst.
For over 200 years, communities across America have used their right to vote for gun laws they believe are needed to protect their safety. Yet the Federal appeals court decided to limit that authority with a misguided view of the Constitution. That was wrong.
The people of this country know that sensible gun laws save lives. For example, Hawaiians banned assault weapons and required a permit to purchase handguns. Californians banned assault weapons and required universal background checks for every gun purchase. Coloradans closed the gun show loophole. Illinoisans closed the gun show loophole and required child safety locks sold with each handgun. Michiganders require lost or stolen guns to be reported to the police. New Yorkers banned assault weapons and closed the gun show loophole. Virginians limited handgun purchases to one per month.
All across America, the power of the people to pass laws like these was put at risk by the reasoning in the lower-court decision.
I am hopeful, however, that the Supreme Court will do the right thing.
If the Justices read all 27 words of the Second Amendment and give them meaning; if they respect the right of the people to enact their own strong gun laws, as we have throughout American history; and, if the Justices reject judicial activism and refrain from substituting their own policy preferences for the people's elected representatives, then the District of Columbia will prevail. And so will the American people.
As a lawyer and a lifelong Republican, I have deep respect for judicial precedent, for American history, and for a close reading of all the words in the Constitution. As one who served as Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana for 12 years, I also believe in the importance of local communities being able to pass the laws they believe will help keep them safe.
These are common values we all share, and I am optimistic that the US Supreme Court shares them, as well.