Sunday, September 28, 2003

Supremes are disarmingly wrong again

Peter Bronson

The Left Coast Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals tried to ban "God'' from the Pledge of Allegiance and blocked the California recall election, claiming voters are too stupid to use punch cards. No wonder California's Clinton-Carter court is reversed 80 percent of the time by the U.S. Supreme Court - a record of boneheaded rulings exceeded only by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Ohio Supremes declared the state's system of funding education unconstitutional, triggering years of useless litigation and billions in spending. Then when they found out they couldn't reach over the backs of the governor and lawmakers to run public schools, they issued another historic ruling: Never mind.

The Ohio Supremes got it all wrong again when they declared that school vouchers were unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court took a look and reversed the Ohio ruling like a teacher handing back a red-scribbled "F'' on homework.

This week, the Ohio court voted 5-2 to declare that the state ban on carrying concealed weapons is constitutional. Once again, they are out of step, out of date, out of excuses.

Justice Paul Pfeifer, writing for the majority, scoured the legal precedents and declared that it's fine to arrest people who carry concealed weapons, drag them into court and make them prove they had a good reason, because, "Placing the burden of proof on a defendant is constitutional.''

Now there's a stirring moment in state judicial history - an impassioned defense of the principle of presumed guilt. Arrest them all, sort it out later.

Pfeifer also says it's OK to restrict the fundamental right to bear arms spelled out in the Ohio Constitution, because there are limits on other basic rights, such as free speech, assembly, free press and trial by jury.

Think about it. Imagine limits that said, sure, you have a right to publish a newspaper - as long as you only sell it after midnight. Sure, you can gather anywhere you want as long as you wear wingtips and prom dresses. Sure, you can speak up and say what you want - if you are prepared to go directly to jail and do not pass go.

The dissent by Justices Maureen O'Connor and Evelyn Stratton said restrictions on the right to bear arms are just as ridiculous. "This is as offensive as a statute allowing the arrest of anyone who speaks in public, but permitting the speaker to prove at trial that the speech was constitutionally protected.''

They said the right to bear arms is "a fundamental individual right,'' just like freedom of speech, "and any infringements should be subject to strict scrutiny.''

"A restriction must be necessary to serve a compelling government interest.''

That hits the target like a 9-mm from here to a mugger.

Where's the compelling-interest beef? Pfeiffer cites "public safety,'' but his argument is as out of date as the 1859 ban on concealed carry.

Forty-five states now allow concealed carry - and the evidence shows that those laws have made the public safer, by making bad guys guess who is packing.

The dissent cites more than 30 states that have "successfully balanced the rights of citizens with the state's compelling public safety concerns.''

It's about time Ohio joined those states that already allow concealed carry, without any threat to public safety.

But we don't need a California court in Ohio.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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