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4. District of Columbia v. Heller: “A Triumph of Originalism”?
About this Lecture
In this module, we focus on District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which clarified the right for individuals to keep and bear arms. In particular, we consider: (i) the divisiveness of the issue of gun control in American politics; (ii) the history of the gun control debate, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, the election of Richard Nixon in the same year, and the so-called ‘Revolt at Cincinnati’; (iii) the importance of originalism and living constitutionalism as approaches to the gun control debate, each of which are neatly encapsulated in the majority and dissenting opinions in District of Columbia v. Heller; and (iv) the questions left unanswered by District of Columbia v. Heller and the apparent reluctance of the Supreme Court to answer them.
In this course, Dr Emma Long (University of East Anglia) explores how the Supreme Court of the United States works by looking at some of its landmark cases over the past 50-60 years – especially those relating to civil rights (broadly defined). In the first module, we think about the growth of the Supreme Court’s interest in civil rights in the post-war period, including its handling of an unprecedented number of cases related to individual rights. In the second module, we think about the Supreme Court cases that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), making the argument that Brown should be seen not as the beginning of a civil rights movement, but as the culmination of a legal campaign that can be traced back to Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938). In the third module, we turn to the reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) and think about the potential for Supreme Court decisions to turn a politically (relatively) inert issue into something much more controversial and hotly contested. In the fourth module, we think about the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which – in its majority and minority opinions – produced unusually cogent outlines of the originalist and living constitutionalist approaches to interpretation of the Constitution. Finally, in the fifth module, we turn to the issue of gay rights and the extent to which shifts in public opinion impacts how the Supreme Court interprets the law.
Dr Emma Long is Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests focus on the history of the US Constitution and the Supreme Court. Although interested in all aspects of this history, her particular focus is on the period since 1945 and on the rights contained in the Bill of Rights. Emma also has an interest in the interaction of religion and politics in American history, particularly issues related to the idea of the “separation of church and state” that emerge from the First Amendment.
Cite this Lecture
Long, E. (2020, March 03). The Supreme Court of the United States – Key Issues and Landmark Cases - District of Columbia v. Heller: “A Triumph of Originalism”? [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/the-supreme-court-of-the-united-states-key-issues-and-landmark-cases/district-of-columbia-v-heller-a-triumph-of-originalism
Long, E. "The Supreme Court of the United States – Key Issues and Landmark Cases – District of Columbia v. Heller: “A Triumph of Originalism”?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 03 Mar 2020, https://www.massolit.io/courses/the-supreme-court-of-the-united-states-key-issues-and-landmark-cases/district-of-columbia-v-heller-a-triumph-of-originalism