The Washington State Supreme Court delivered a haymaker to anti-gunners – and strong reinforcement to gun rights advocates – Thursday morning when it handed down an opinion in the case of State v. Sieyes that states bluntly, “We hold the Second Amendment applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause.”
The majority opinion, written by Justice Richard B. Sanders, was signed by five other justices including Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, with a (sort-of) concurring opinion from Justice Debra L. Stephens that takes issue with the incorporation premise, and a partly-concurring and partly-dissenting opinion from Justice James M. Johnson that argues the majority ruling isn’t strong enough.
Although the issue of incorporation is at the heart of McDonald v. Chicago, the Second Amendment Foundation's case now before the United States Supreme Court for which oral arguments are scheduled March 2, Sanders notes in his majority state-level opinion that even though the high court “did not expressly consider incorporation of the right to bear arms” in the June 2008 Heller ruling, “that need not stop the rest of us.” He maintains that lower courts “need not wait for the Supreme Court” on the question of incorporation. (Read more about the McDonald case here.)
“The Constitution is the rule of all courts—both state and federal judiciaries wield power to strike down unconstitutional government acts,” Sanders writes.
The Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.-Washington State Supreme Court, State v. Sieyes
The case involves a then-17-year-old defendant, Christopher Sieyes, who was a passenger in a car pulled over by a Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy. The deputy found a loaded Bersa .380 ACP pistol under Sieyes’ seat and arrested him. In October 2007, the trial court found Sieyes guilty of second degree illegal firearms possession, and the teen appealed on several grounds, one of which is that state law prohibiting firearms possession by certain individuals is “an absolute prohibition on firearm possession by minors” and is therefore unconstitutional.
Thursday’s ruling went against Sieyes’ argument that the law violates his constitutional rights, under either the federal or state constitutions. Part of the case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals for further action.
In her concurring opinion supporting the court’s position that Sieyes’ rights were not violated, which was also signed by Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice Stephens argued against the court’s eagerness to take a position on incorporation, since it has yet to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Having determined the Second Amendment protects individual rights against state interference...'-Justice Richard B. Sanders
“For me,” Stephens writes, “the discussion ends there, and I would refrain from engaging in an extended exploration of the unsettled question of federal incorporation of the Second Amendment. Restraint is particularly appropriate here because the very question is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court.
“I do not believe this is an instance where there is anything to be accomplished,” she adds, “particularly as our opinion is likely to be eclipsed before the ink it takes to print it is dry.”
Johnson, taking issue with the court majority for not applying strict scrutiny to its examination of Sieyes’ constitutional claim, writes, “the majority disregards our long-standing national tradition allowing younger citizens to bear arms and the level of protection that we customarily accord to fundamental rights. I therefore write separately to emphasize that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review for Second Amendment challenges to statutes restricting these important constitutional rights.
Strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review for Second Amendment challenges to statutes restricting these important constitutional rights. - Justice James M. Johnson, Concur/Dissent in part
“This conclusion is inescapable,” he continues, “when one considers the fundamental nature of the right to keep and bear arms throughout our nation’s history and our legacy of extending that right to young people. Youth have been permitted and even on occasion requested to bear arms since our country’s nascent days and throughout the history of our state.
“What were these teenagers fighting for,” Johnson asks. “I remind the court that, among other things, they fought for the right to bear arms…”
Under existing statute, Sieyes should not have had that pistol under his car seat, but this case has opened a can of worms for gun prohibitionists, and the lid may be off permanently, depending how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the McDonald case in late May or early June.
However, if the recent performances of both former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and his successor, Mike McGinn are any indication, anti-gunners will likely pursue their childish demand that the law be changed. Nickels was advised by Attorney General Rob McKenna that his desire to ban guns in the city was illegal. He did it, anyway and left McGinn and the city holding that bag. The other day, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer ripped a hole in the bag, causing McGinn to infamously rant that he wants the legislature to change the law, something Nickels had lobbied for when he was in office.
The Sanders opinion sends a strong signal that Seattle will fare poorly if it appeals Shaffer’s ruling, because it squarely defines the state Supreme Court’s position on gun rights.
If commentator Ken Schram’s blistering criticism of McGinn on KOMO Wednesday evening upset the mayor’s stomach and gave group indigestion to the minions over at Washington CeaseFire, Thursday’s state Supreme Court ruling should guarantee them ulcers.