Last year's District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms, exemplifies Mr. Lipsky's point that the language of the Constitution retains its power even when long ignored. "We've had 200 years, and nothing's ever been done about this," he says. "For 50 of the 200 years, the New York Times has been sneering at the idea of an individual right, and everybody's been talking about how this right belongs to the 'militia.'"The Constitution provides that ordinary citizens can challenge legislation in court and overturn the law the of the land.
Yet by carefully analyzing the language of the Second Amendment, the court cast aside that musty conventional wisdom. Mr. Lipsky, who describes himself as "a partisan of the plain-language school of the law," applauds not just the result but the method the justices, in an opinion by Antonin Scalia, employed to reach it: "They really get into the language. I mean, the actual grammar, the sentence structure, the subordinate and not-subordinate clauses, which—forgive me, but I've been arguing for a generation and a half as an editorial writer, the plain language of this thing is plain."
What a great document, that Constitution.
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