Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Was I Right About Justice Alito Before I Was Wrong About Him?

In this post back in early September, I suggested that Justice Alito could be in play in the DC gun case (at that point just pending on cert). I said: "I put Alito in the unknown category because I suspect that his long experience as a prosecutor makes him more of a law-and-order conservative on this issue than his more ideologically conservative brethren." I now have information that leads me to think that this was naive on my part. Last night I had a conversation with a prominent conservative law professor who worked directly under Alito at the Justice Department. He thought that Justice Alito was fully on board with the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment that conservatives tend to endorse on the basis of their reading of the original understanding.

If said law professor is right, then I was wrong about Justice Alito. But before I was wrong about him I was right about him, when earlier I wrote (in the Harvard Law & Policy Review, available here) that as a former high-ranking lawyer in a Republican Justice Department, Alito's views would have been well-known to the judge pickers working for the current President, and therefore that he would have been pre-screened for his ideological purity. If borne out by Justice Alito's vote in the DC gun case, my conversation with my conservative law professor friend will thus doubly confirm the claim of my earlier analysis: 1) It will show that in-the-loop conservatives know one another's views on ideological issues; and 2) It will show that Alito is, as predicted by the model my article develops, a staunch conservative.

You see, the good thing about making a lot of predictions---especially mutually contradictory ones about the same binary events---is that you're guaranteed that some of them will prove to be right!

Posted by Mike Dorf

12 comments:

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

Interesting you mention this.

I am curious about why Judge Alito didn't discuss the Second Amendment issue in U.S. v. Rybar,103 F.3d 273 (3d Cir. 1996). Rybar's attorney brought this up in the case and it was dismissed by the court. The court took the "collective right" approach.

Judge Alito's dissent only used the U.S. v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), commerce clause rationale.

Shouldn't he have done a Justice Thomas and mentioned the "new Scholarship" if he were inclined for the "individual right" school.

Also, the ABA voted Justice Alito "Well Qualified" by unanimous vote of the Standing Committee with one recusal. Might this give us a clue given that the ABA supports the "Collective Right" approach to interpreting the Second Amendment?

SO, my question is is US v. Rybar a true indicator of Justice Alito's position on the Second Amendment?

Michael C. Dorf said...

I wouldn't assume that the ABA's "well qualified" rating --- which is based on professional credentials --- indicates that the ABA thought then-Judge Alito agreed with the ABA on substantive propositions. As to Rybar, that's slightly more interesting, although even there, Alito could have felt constrained by Supreme Court precedent he may now feel comfortable overruling (or modifying).

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

How far do you think J. Alito would go toward overturning a position ("collective right") that he appears to have accepted at one time? Would he feel that there would be too much of a sea change from what the past 60 some odd years of court rulings?

Also, I have to wonder how much an acceptance of the "individual right" would open the flood gate for new litigation. Remember that John Walker Lindh used the Second Amendment defence two weeks after John Ashcroft adopted that position

http://www.vpc.org/press/0205lindh.htm

I mean the past 60 odd years have seen loads of Second Amendment challenges to firearms laws. Wouldn't the change lead to an attempt to define what is a "reasonable restriction?

Is this a good position to take during a war on terrorism? Especially if someone such as Benjamin Netanyahu believes that tightening gun control laws as an essential element of combating terrorism (see Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat the International Terrorist Network, p. 141).

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