Sonia Sotomayor Gets It Wrong On Gun Rightsby Doug Mataconis
During the course of her confirmation hearing today, Sonia Sotomayor had a very interesting exchange with Senator Tom Coburn over the right to keep and bear arms:
In a prickly exchange over gun control, Sen. Tom Coburn tried hard to get Sonia Sotomayor to explain what she actually thinks about the right to bear arms. “As a citizen of this country do you believe … I have a right to personal self-defense?” he asked her.
Sotomayor said she couldn’t think of a Supreme Court case that had addressed the issue in that language. “Is there a constitutional right to self-defense?” she asked. “ I can’t think of one. I could be wrong.”
The Oklahoma Republican said he didn’t want to know if there was a legal precedent that would answer his question — he wanted to know Sotomayor’s personal opinion.
She paused. “That is sort of an abstract question,” she said. “I don’t –”
“Well that’s what the American people want to hear,” Coburn said. Americans don’t want legalese from “bright legal minds,” he said. “They want to know if they can defend themselves in their homes.”
Sotomayor paused and then apologized. “I know it’s difficult to deal with someone who is a judge,” she said. “Let me try to address what you’re saying in the context that I can, OK?”
She went on to explain a hypothetical case – and the way she’d interpret it under New York law (the state whose law she knows best). The state allows someone to defend themselves if they fear an imminent threat. Let’s say, she told the senator, that Coburn threatened her and then she went home, got a gun and shot him.
“You’d have a lot of explaining to do!” Coburn said.
Here’s the video of the exchange:
One wonders if someone needs to give Sotomayor a copy of the majority opinion in D.C. v. Heller:
Between 1789 and 1820, nine States adopted Second Amendment analogues. Four of them—Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri—referred to the right of the people to “bear arms in defence of themselves and the State.” See n. 8, supra. Another three States—Mississippi, Connecticut, and Alabama—used the even more individualistic phrasing that each citizen has the “right to bear arms in defence of himself and the State.” See ibid. Finally, two States—Tennessee and Maine—used the “common defence” language of Massachusetts. See Tenn. Const., Art. XI, §26 (1796), in 6 Thorpe 3414, 3424; Me. Const., Art. I, §16 (1819), in 3 id., at 1646, 1648. That of the nine state constitutional protections for the right to bear arms enacted immediately after 1789 at least seven unequivocally protected an individual citizen’s right to self-defense is strong evidence that that is how the founding generation conceived of the right. And with one possible exception that we discuss in Part II–D–2, 19th-century courts and commentators interpreted these state constitutional provisions to protect an individual right to use arms for self-defense. See n. 9, supra; Simpson v. State, 5Yer. 356, 360 (Tenn. 1833).
It was plainly the understanding in the post-Civil War Congress that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to use arms for self-defense.
As the quotations earlier in this opinion demonstrate, the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right.
Apparently, Sotomayor hasn’t read Heller at all.