In 1996, I voted against DOMA because I believed—and still believe—that it was unconstitutional and unconscionable for Congress to actively legislate against gay Americans. I stood on the floor of the Senate to implore my colleagues to reject this bill. From the Senate floor, I argued that this legislation was wrong, “because not only is it meant to divide Americans, but it is fundamentally unconstitutional, regardless of your views. DOMA is unconstitutional. There is no single Member of the U.S. Senate who believes that it is within the Senate's power to strip away the word or spirit of a constitutional clause by simple statute.”
Amid one of the most violent and deadly summers Chicago has ever experienced, in which only the last few weeks have seen shootings that left 81 wounded and 13 dead, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that an almost 30-year-old citywide ban on handgun ownership is unconstitutional. The high court’s decision, McDonald v. Chicago, comes as a grave disappointment to a city that has long been plagued by gun violence — a pandemic which has claimed the lives of innocent civilians, police officers, and even young children. Deadly shootings are on the rise, and I believe that increasing the number of handguns on our streets will do little to quell this staggering violence. In fact, I fear it will have quite the opposite effect.
In 2005, George W. Bush chose who would be his nominee to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. It was his longtime friend and legal confidant, Harriet Miers. Unknown in legal circles, the biggest achievement of his fellow Texan was that she worked in the White House as legal counsel. Upon being named, both the left and the right came out against her nomination. However, it was the strong opposition by the conservatives that brought the nomination down.
It only makes sense that people should be able to defend themselves in their own homes. The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights states "the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." It doesn’t mention geographical boundaries. However, Chicago’s handgun ban has been keeping firearms out of the homes of law abiding citizens for years. At the same time the arsenal carried by criminals has grown in the Windy City, causing gun violence to rise. The handgun ban did little to protect the citizens of the city and instead made them criminals if they chose to protect themselves with a firearm. It also infringed on the rights of hunters, sportsmen and weapons collectors.
Yesterday is a day that will live in infamy for people of good will across the United States. In a 5-to-4 decision, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court unleashed an unabated free for all by the NRA and other pro-gun extremists over who can arm how many people in the shortest period of time. I am deeply troubled by this ruling as it comes as the result of five conservative, activist judges whose arc of justice bends towards those with guns no matter the circumstance and no matter the community.
Today the Senate begins consideration of the lifetime appointment of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Critics have said that her judicial record is non-existent, and there are few clues to how she will rule on the country's highest court. However, her past actions do signal her views on one of the most important issues likely to come before the Court in the near future: a state's right to play a role in the enforcement of immigration laws.
Today marks a great moment in American history. This is a landmark decision. It is a vindication for the great majority of American citizens who have always believed the Second Amendment was an individual right and freedom worth defending.
On Monday, I will have the chance to introduce Elena Kagan to the Senate Judiciary Committee as our confirmation process begins in earnest. Before I do, I wanted to clear the air about a mistruth that some are determined to keep recycling and recirculating – I guess not surprising, but nonetheless disappointing when we’re talking about a nomination for the Supreme Court where you’d think the Senate would actually insist on a debate on the merits.
Instead, misinformation, distortions and flat-out untruths about Elena Kagan’s support of the military are growing predictably louder.
And while it’s no surprise that a liberal President would nominate a liberal to serve on the Supreme Court, it is disappointing. What is important in a potential Supreme Court Justice isn’t political ideology—but rather a clear understanding of the role, and limits, of a federal judge.
The new Supreme Court pick, Elena Kagan, has never been a judge. News reports say she doesn't have trial court experience as a lawyer. As a lawyer, she never questioned a witness or made an argument before a jury. She's never been a trial judge, so she never had to make a constitutional ruling in the courtroom in the heat of trial. She's never heard a civil case. She's never heard a criminal case. She's never even heard a traffic case. She's never ruled on the rules of evidence like the exclusionary rule. She's never instructed a jury on reasonable doubt or sentenced a convicted criminal.