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James Talocka: The Supreme Court Versus Liberty

On June 15th, the Supreme Court signaled their opposition to individual liberty and the rule of law through three major decisions. The court refused to review cases that challenged qualified immunity and Second Amendment infringements, but also chose to expand the scope of employment discrimination legislation.

Supreme Court building

With regard to qualified immunity, perhaps the most salient matter examined, multiple cases involving substantial errors by police went unheard. One case involved a police officer in Georgia who accidentally shot a 10-year-old boy in the leg while aiming at a family dog. Another dismissed case involved officers in Idaho who fired tear gas into a woman’s home under the false assumption that a suspect was inside. Officers in both cases protected themselves from culpability through qualified immunity.

The Supreme Court’s lack of action on this matter signals that they are unwilling to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct that would land an ordinary citizen in serious legal trouble. This further indicates that police are above the rule of law, which incentivizes them to take advantage of the population they are supposed to serve.

The gun rights cases brought before the conservative leaning Supreme Court had the potential to be a slam dunk for Second Amendment advocates. However, a multitude of challenges to state weapons bans and carry restrictions fell on deaf ears.

The right to carry a firearm outside of the home for self-defense was a main issue up for review. One such case was a petition to the Supreme Court from New Jersey that challenged the state’s requirement for residents to demonstrate “a justifiable need to carry a handgun,” which renders the chance of getting a carry permit in New Jersey very slim. They also declined to review magazine capacity restrictions and bans on certain semi-automatic firearms in Massachusetts and Illinois.

The dismissal of these cases shows that states can subvert the Second Amendment by adding conditions to the right to bear arms. While these statutes do not flat-out ban gun ownership, they make it extremely difficult for citizens to exercise their right to carry a firearm or own certain types of firearms.

Even as they refused to uphold the rule of law and gun rights, the majority of Supreme Court justices decided to expand the definition of sex discrimination in employment to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination in employment on the basis of sex was made illegal through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The way in which “sex” should be interpreted was the main point of contention between justices. However, the existing implication of Title VII is a deeper issue that only grows through its expansion.

Title VII was founded as a restriction on employers’ freedom of association and contract. The policy mandates that an employer not discriminate against an employee on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Therefore, the expansion of this criteria into sexual orientation and gender identity requires employers to add or retain additional subsets of the population on their pay roles regardless of their wishes.

A day’s worth of Supreme Court decisions resulted in three steps back for individual liberty and the rule of law. The court’s dismissals put a stamp on an alarming legal precedent: shielding law enforcement from the consequences of their actions and leaving the hands of gun owners tied by state legislation. Their decision to expand the terms of Title VII adds yet another contingency to owning and operating a business.

This editorial was written by James Talocka, a student at George Mason University.