An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

The District of Columbia criminalized the possession of handguns. Dick Heller, a resident of the District of Columbia, worked as a special policeman. He was required to use a firearm at work to protect federal judges. But the District of Columbia denied his application to register a handgun he wished to keep at home. Heller then challenged the constitutionality of the D.C. handgun ban. He was represented by Alan Gura, a civil rights attorney in Virginia, Robert A. Levy of the libertarian Cato Institute, and Clark M. Neily III of the Institute for Justice.

In 2008, the Supreme Court considered whether D.C.’s handgun ban violated the Second Amendment. It provides, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Court sharply divided, 5-4. Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. The Court found that the Second Amendment, based on its text and history, guarantees an individual right to possess a gun in the home for self-defense. Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer dissented.

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