Constitutional scholar in Washington Post

The Bush administration's position in the case before the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the District of Columbia's ban on handguns has created an unexpected and serious backlash in conservative circles, disappointing gun enthusiasts and creating implications for the presidential campaign. The government's brief, filed by U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement just hours before the court's deadline Jan. 11, endorses the view that the Second Amendment conveys an individual right to gun ownership, a finding long sought by gun rights activists. But it also said an appeals court used the wrong standard when it struck down the District's ban on private handgun ownership, and it urged the Supreme Court to return the case to the lower court for review. If the justices accept that advice when they hear the case in the spring, it could mean additional years of litigation over the controversial Second Amendment and could undo a ruling that was a seminal victory for gun rights enthusiasts. Some were livid. One conservative Web site said the administration had "blundered in catastrophic fashion," and another turned Clement, usually a pinup for conservative legal scholars, into a digital dartboard. Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the Republicans' chief deputy whip, called the brief "just outrageous," and Republican presidential candidate and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) accused the Justice Department of "overlawyering" the issue. David B. Kopel, an associate policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that President Bush was elected in part because of the passion of gun rights activists and that "the citizen activists would never have spent all those hours volunteering for a candidate whose position on the constitutionality of a handgun ban was 'maybe.' " On the other side, Sanford Levinson, a liberal constitutional scholar at the University of Texas who believes that the Second Amendment protects individual rights, called the administration's position "a gift to the Democratic Party" and urged his party's presidential candidates to embrace it.

The Washington Post
Administration Rankles Some With Stance in Handgun Case
(Jan. 20)