Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens is starting to sound like a jilted suitor whose “promposal” was flatly rejected.
At 99, the third-longest serving Supreme Court justice is showing time isn’t healing old wounds over the landmark Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller. Stevens continues to pine for the one that got away. In his new memoir, “The Making of a Justice,” he writes of Heller that it was “Unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Court announced during my tenure on the bench.”
That’s not admitting you didn’t get to take the belle to the ball. That’s saying she also married the wrong guy, had 2.5 kids, a white picket-pence house, and tail-wagging dog that was all wrong for her too.
Here’s a little recap on the landmark Heller decision. Dick Heller was a licensed special police officer in Washington D.C., where he also lived. He carried a gun in federal buildings by day, but was forbidden to keep his own handgun in his D.C. home under the District’s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975.
That law banned the private ownership of handguns. It also held that any rifles or shotguns kept in a D.C. home must be unloaded, disassembled or locked up, and unavailable for self-defense. Heller sued.
Heller’s case was dismissed by the District Court for the District of Columbia but overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The District of Columbia appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2008, the Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s rights, just as the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to freedom of speech and religion.
Stevens wrote the main dissenting opinion, and he’s been talking about the one that got away ever since.
In 2012, Stevens told a Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence audience it was “mind-boggling” Congress hadn’t taken steps to address what he called gun violence. Stevens conveniently ignored that, including during his tenure on the bench, gun ownership has grown in popularity, even as crime plummeted.
He’s also conflating lawful gun ownership with criminal actions. Stevens isn’t calling for a ban on freedom of speech because of hateful rhetoric, or a ban on freedom of religion because we’ve witnessed horrific acts committed in the religion’s name. He’s got no problem, however, with attempting to eradicating the right to keep and bear arms. In fact, he’s never hidden his disdain for the Heller decision or the Second Amendment altogether.
“The combination of its actual practical impact by increasing the use of guns in the country and also the legal reasoning, which I thought was totally unpersuasive, persuaded me that the case is just about as bad as any in my tenure,” Stevens said of the Heller decision to The New York Times in 2018.
Stevens further called the Second Amendment a “relic of the 18th century” in a 2018 New York Times op-ed. He took it a step further and said the antiquated idea of armed self-defense, especially against a tyrannical government, needed to go and demonstrators shouting for gun control should do more than demand firearms sales restrictions, enacting age-based gun bans or any of those half-measures. Stevens said they should “demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”
Tales of unrequited lost loves might be interesting memoir material, but carping on about how the prom date was all wrong and now all proms should be cancelled—that’s more than holding a grudge. That’s unhealthy for Stevens and for our nation.