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On Interpretive Conflict$
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John Frow

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226613956

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226614144.001.0001

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Reading with Guns: District of Columbia v. Heller

Reading with Guns: District of Columbia v. Heller

(p.49) 1 Reading with Guns: District of Columbia v. Heller
On Interpretive Conflict

John Frow

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores a 2008 US Supreme Court case that brings into play two starkly contrasted readings of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution: a textualist or “originalist” reading written for the majority by Justice Antonin Scalia, and a “contextualist” reading written by two of the dissenting justices. The Court’s discovery of a previously unarticulated constitutional right (the right of private citizens to carry guns for self-defense) is firmly rooted in the libertarian principles of the US gun lobby. Yet its judgment in this case is made as though it were entirely free of any such context: the Court endows the text of the Constitution with an absolute authority and envisages its own decision-making processes as taking place within an apparently timeless and transcendental institution. That interpretive institution is, however, neither timeless nor transcendental but rather a field of self-reinforcing authority that enables and contains dissenting views and is composed of quite heterogeneous materials: a multiplicity of legal domains, a network of material and immaterial orderings, disparate forms of discourse, and the pre-judgments and tacit understandings that underpin them.

Keywords:   constitutional interpretation, Second Amendment, District of Columbia v. Heller, gun rights, Antonin Scalia, Bruno Latour, common law interpretation, originalism

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