In a busy week for the court after an equally busy spring, the Supreme Court has made two rulings in the last couple of days that address issues that lie at the very heart of U.S. law and its constitutional foundations.
The most recent verdict, issued this morning, D.C. v. Heller, strikes down a 32-year-old ban on handguns in Washington, D.C., ruling that the ban is unconstitutional according to the Second Amendment. The 5-4 ruling was the first broad interpretation of the Second Amendment’s provision that citizens have “the right to bear arms” since its ratification in 1791. The majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia stated that the Constitution does not provide for “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.”
A verdict yesterday touches on a still-more controversial issue, that of child rape. In another 5-4 decision, the court overturned a death penalty in Louisiana given to a man who was convicted of raping his 12-year-old stepdaughter. The majority of justices ruled that the despite the awfulness of the crime, it does not warrant capital punishment. The court interpreted the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” to include death penalty in the case of rape in a ruling in 1977, and the recent decision clarifies this precedent in the case of children.
For more analysis of Supreme Court decisions past and present, visit the Total Criminal Defense article section.