Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yet Another Comment on DC vs. Heller

Like many concerned with self-defense, I’m quite happy with today’s decision by the Supreme Court on the DC vs. Heller case. Short, short version: Yes, dear citizens, you really do have an individual right to keep & bear arms (barring some restrictions whose legal details that will be left as an exercise for the readers).

I’ll leave the legal commentary to the professionals but I would like to talk about a few structural and stylistic items which caught my eye in reading the opinion of the Court.

Overall, reading the majority & dissenting opinions was very much like watching a well-versed history professor debate two well-meaning sociology professors....In other words, a rhetorical bloodbath for the dissenters. This is most telling when you look at the length of the opinions:

Justice Scalia (Majority): 67 pages
Justice Stevens (Dissent#1): 45 pages
Justice Breyers (Dissent#2): 43 pages

Do you know the difference between opinions resulting in the longer length for Justice Scalia? CITATIONS. In great numbers and copious detail. Justice Scalia’s opinion is overflowing with them. In some parts, paragraphs consist of a couple sentences followed by 5-10 sources for an assertion. Whole pages are nothing but quotes. And his sources extend from a hundred years prior to the Founding to the present day. Seriously, the opinion reads like a history paper. A kinda awesome history paper.

Also, I don’t always agree with the man but Justice Scalia knows how to turn a phrase. A couple of my favorite zingers from his opinion:

“A purposive qualifying phrase that contradicts the word or phrase it modifies is unknown this side of the looking glass (except, apparently, in some courses on Linguistics).” -p18
Or what happens when a Supreme Court Justice with a good understanding of history can knock bus-sized holes in supporting arguments from supposedly-unbiased Linguistic professionals.
“If so, they overread Miller. And their erroneous reliance upon an uncontested and virtually unreasoned case cannot nullify the reliance of millions of Americans...” -p55, footnote
This isn’t funny by itself. However for some reason, it reminded me strongly of this "Star Wars" quote. Seriously, read this sentence aloud then listen to the quote (Start at 0:20). Hilarious I tell you.

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