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Opening Arguments

And a one, and a two

Two late-breaking opinions from the Supreme Court this morning, and they're both doozies. First up, the First Amendment:


The Supreme Court has upheld the right of local officials to open town council meetings with prayer, ruling that this does not violate the Constitution even if the prayers routinely stress Christianity. 

The court said in a 5-4 decision Monday that the content of the prayers is not critical as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion. 

The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester.

[. . .]

"The prayer opportunity is evaluated against the backdrop of a historical practice showing that prayer has become part of the Nation's heritage and tradition," the majority wrote in the opinion. "It is presumed that the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understands that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens."

The majority justices further argued that the intended audience "is not the public, but the lawmakers themselves."

I think that last point is an interesting one and, on reflection, an abvious one. More precisely, its about how the lamakers want to be seen by the public -- as pious, sober citizens whose work deserves to betreated with respect.

The implicationsare are obvious for the battles we've had here for the last few years about opening Indiana House sessions with prayers, although it's always dangerous to guess how precedents might be applied. An obvious eddect is that the demand for less-sectarian prayers might now be paid less attention to. If nothing else, this will likely re-energize the debate here.

And second, we have, naturally, the Second Amendment:

WASHINGTON —The Supreme Court appears hesitant to wade back into the national debate on guns.

The court refused Monday to decide whether the right to bear arms extends outside the home. The justices won't consider a challenge to a New Jersey law that restricts most residents from carrying guns in public.

The case would have marked the most significant gun control case at the high court since its District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008 upheld the right to keep handguns at home for self-defense.

The New Jersey challenge was backed by the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners Foundation. "The Second Amendment guarantees the right to carry weapons for the purpose of self-defense — not just for self-defense within the home, but for self-defense, period," the NRA argued in its brief to the high court.

I guess technically that's not an opinion but rather the lack of one. But in this case, the act of not deciding was in itself a decision. Whether and under what circusmstances guns can be carried outside the home will now be left to the states. The court has been willing to say (narrowly) that guns in the home, as an individual right, come under the Second Amendment's protection, but it isn't willing to extend that protection outside th home.

I'm a strong advocate of gun rights, so the temptation is to see this as a setback. But I'm also a strong proponent of federalism and letting states take care of most of their own business wiout meddlerism(federal meddling). All 10 of the Bill of Rights were meant originally to apply to the federal government only. The idea that we might be paying homage to that principle, in however small a way, is a good thing.