Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Ammo for Future First Amendment Rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court just decided a case involving the Second Amendment. What it boils down to is that they decided the Second Amendment (the gun one) applies to state governments as well as to the Federal government. In this case, that means because it's in the Constitution, the Feds can't act contrary to the Bill of Rights, and neither can states.

Gun rights fans are predictably thrilled by this, but I think they're being a little short-sighted. This ruling may have a strong impact on some other favorite social conservative shibboleths. A favorite argument that social conservatives use in their attempts to take the meat out of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment is that it only says Congress - meaning, the U.S. Congress - can make no law regarding the establishment of a religion. But it doesn't say anything about the states. So if the state government of Utah wants to make Mormonism compulsory, or Oklahoma wants to outlaw atheism, well, that's their right. Of course it's strange that people interested in limiting government's ability to interfere with the private lives of its citizens would be so afraid of the Federal government and so welcoming of intrusion from the states. (It sticks out like a sore thumb to real libertarians.)

That's why this ruling may actually help the cause of church-state separation when cases are heard by SCOTUS in the future. I'm no Constitutional law scholar but it seems that this exact same argument will make it much, much more difficult in the future for the states to argue that the Feds can't act contrary to the Bill of Rights, and neither can states.

No comments: