Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lash and Hamburger on Privileges or Immunities

The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment is in the news today, with the Supreme Court hearing arguments in McDonald v. City of Chicago. The case raises the question of whether the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller applies to the states via either the Due Process Clause or the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Right on cue, two legal scholars have just posted new papers on the history of the clause.

The first is The Origins of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, Part II: John Bingham’s Epiphany by Kurt Lash, Loyola Law School Los Angeles. Here's the abstract:
Historical accounts of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment generally assume that John Bingham based the text on Article IV of the original Constitution and that Bingham, like other Reconstruction Republicans, viewed Justice Washington’s opinion in Corfield v. Coryell as the definitive interpretation of Article IV. According to this view, Justice Miller in the Slaughterhouse Cases failed to follow both framers’ intent and obvious textual meaning when he sharply distinguished Section One’s privileges or immunities from Article IV’s privileges and immunities.

This article, the second in a three-part investigation of the origins of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, presents historical evidence which strongly suggests that none of these assumptions are correct. Although John Bingham’s first draft of the Fourteenth Amendment used the language of Article IV, mid-way through the Reconstruction debates Bingham realized he had made a mistake. Withdrawing his initial proposal, Bingham abandoned the language of Article IV and drafted a second version of the Amendment. This second version protected the “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States ”— a phrase which mirrored antebellum language regarding the rights of national citizenship. Bingham insisted that his second and final version of Section One did not refer to the common law state-conferred rights of Corfield and Article IV, but instead nationalized a different and limited set of constitutionally recognized privileges and immunities, in particular the first eight amendments to the Constitution. Understanding the difference between Bingham’s first and second drafts not only explains what otherwise appear to be inconsistencies in Bingham’s speeches, it also calls into question contemporary efforts to read the Privileges or Immunities Clause as a source of un-enumerated natural rights. Like other moderates in the Thirty-Ninth Congress, Bingham wished to expand the protection of individual rights in the states, but not at the expense of the retained right of the people in the states to regulate the content of most civil rights, subject only to the requirements of due process and equal protection.
In tension with Lash is a paper by Philip Hamburger, Columbia University Law School, Privileges or Immunities. Here's the abstract:
What was meant by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause? Did it incorporate the U.S. Bill of Rights against the states? Long ignored evidence clearly shows that the Clause was an attempt to resolve a national dispute about the Comity Clause rights of free blacks. In this context, the phrase “the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” was a label for Comity Clause rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment used this phrase to make clear that free blacks were entitled to such rights.
Larry Solum discusses both papers at the Legal Theory Blog.

Breaking news: here's what happened with the privileges or immunities clause today at the Court -- from SCOTUS Blog:

The first argument to collapse as the hearing unfolded was the plea by the lawyer for gun rights advocates, Alan Gura of Alexandria, Virginia, that the Court should “incorporate” the Second Amendment into the 14th Amendment through the “privileges or immunities” clause. In the first comment from the bench after Gura had barely opened, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., noted that the Court had essentially scuttled that argument with its ruling in the SlaughterHouse Cases in 1873. And within a few minutes, Justice Antonin Scalia — the author of the Heller opinion and the Court’s most fervent gun enthusiast — was sarcastically dismissing the “privileges or immunities” argument.

“Why,” Scalia asked Gura, “are you asking us to overrule 140 years of prior law….unless you are bucking for a place on some law school faculty.” The Justice said the “privileges or immunities” argument was “the darling of the professorate” but wondered why Gura would “undertake that burden.” And Scalia noted that the “due process” clause — an open-ended provision that he has strongly attacked on other occasions– was available as the vehicle for incorporation, and added: “Even I have acquiesced in that.” Gura somewhat meekly said “we would be extremely happy:” if the Court used the “due process” clause to extend the Second Amendment’s reach.

Image credit: John Bingham.