J. Balkin on Heller

Following up on the point made by his colleague Sanford Levinson, Balkin (author of combination originalist and living constitutionalism) sees the living constitutional permeating Scalia’s majority opinion.

Despite its long and occasionally dreary originalist exegesis, the Heller majority is not really defending the values of 1791. It is enforcing the values of 2008. This is no accident. Indeed, the result in Heller would have been impossible without the success of the conservative movement and the work of the NRA and other social movement actors who, over a period of about 35 years, succeeded in changing Americans’ minds about the meaning of the Second Amendment, and made what were previously off-the-wall arguments about the Constitution socially and politically respectable to political elites. This is living constitutionalism in action.

Like Lawrence v. Texas, Heller is another example of how the Supreme Court exercises judicial review in response to successful social and political mobilizations, regardless of what individual Justices understand themselves to be doing. The only difference is that in Heller, it is conservatives who have successfully changed public opinion, a change that has now become reflected in Supreme Court opinions.

Read the whole thing.

Final result:

No matter how much the arguments in Boumediene and Heller are dressed up in originalist garb, they show us that that living constitutionalism is alive and well. In each case the Supreme Court revises existing law to match changes in public opinion.

For Balkin’s very deft and penetrating analysis of the relationship between the Court, political movements, and the ballot box, here.

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Published in: on June 27, 2008 at 4:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] Posted by cjsmith under Law, Politics | Tags: After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre, Heller |   In the last post, I highlighted Jack Balkin’s argument that the Heller case was a response via the Courts to […]


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