For the first time in 70 years, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case directly addressing the meaning of the Second Amendment. At issue in D.C v. Heller is the D.C. handgun ban struck down last year by the D.C. Circuit Court. Everyone will read the tea leaves from oral arguments in trying to gauge which way the Court will rule. For Second Amendment advocates this is the test case of a lifetime.
But, a larger point should not be lost. It is a measure of how far we have come in jurisprudential philosophy in the last generation that both sides and the Court itself is focused on a singular question: what do the words of the Second Amendment mean? Neither side is asking : what do the current standards of moral and ethical thinking tell us about the wisdom of gun ownership? The justices are not grilling the lawyers on the latest criminology studies to decide whether a gun ban is a “good idea.” That is a tremendous victory in and of itself for judicial originalism, (the notion that judges determine the meaning of statutes and the Constitution, while elected officials decide policy.) Originalism has been derided and dismissed by liberal academics and practionners for years. Now in a high profile setting where a relatively unexplored area of constitutional law is at issue, originalism reigns supreme. For legal conservatives, that is what the last generation of legal scholarship and judicial nomination fights has been about. And if you ultimately believe in self-government- the proposition that citizens and elected officials decide public policy – this is a very good thing.