Retired Justice John Paul Stevens called the 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision the worst ruling of his tenure on the Supreme Court in a Tuesday essay in The Atlantic.
Stevens, 99, wrote the main dissent in Heller, which affirmed the right to possess firearms in the home for self defense, and has harshly criticized the decision since he left the Supreme Court in 2010.
“Their twin failure — first, the misreading of the intended meaning of the Second Amendment, and second, the failure to respect settled precedent — represents the worst self-inflicted wound in the Court’s history,” Stevens wrote in Tuesday’s essay.
The essay accompanies the release of a new Stevens memoir called “The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years.” The book reveals new details about the Court’s deliberations during the Heller case, a rare inside account of internal business that is sometimes inscrutable even to the closest observers.
In an unusual move, Stevens circulated a draft dissent among his fellow justices long before the late Justice Antonin Scalia finished his majority opinion. Stevens said he hoped to persuade Justices Anthony Kennedy or Clarence Thomas to change their votes — Kennedy being especially attentive to the human dimensions of a case, and Thomas a careful student of history.
Though his efforts were unsuccessful, Stevens said he managed to extract some concessions from the majority to ensure the decision would not eviscerate gun control measures. Indeed, lower courts have cited Heller while upholding gun control laws in the years after Heller.
Since leaving the Court Stevens has urged aggressive action to overturn Heller, going so far as counseling a full repeal of the Second Amendment in a New York Times op-ed.
“I have written in other contexts that an amendment to the Constitution to overrule Heller is desperately needed to prevent tragedies such as the massacre of 20 grammar-school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, from ever happening again,” Stevens wrote Tuesday.
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