On Monday Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report to promote her new memoir My Beloved World. It was a typical interview for the show, with host Stephen Colbert mostly staying in character as a right-wing blowhard while simultaneously lobbing softball questions at a friendly guest.
But things threatened to get genuinely interesting when Colbert brought up the Second Amendment, asking Sotomayor, “Do you believe we have the right to have any weapon we want?” Without missing a beat, Sotomayor replied, “Well, you’ll find out soon enough when a case comes up.”
Cue audience laughter. And it was a funny exchange, though it was also a somewhat disingenuous one. Unless Sotomayor has changed her views recently, she has already endorsed a sweeping gun control agenda and voiced her opposition to viewing the Second Amendment as a protector of individual rights.
In 2010, Sotomayor joined the dissenting opinion filed by Justice Stephen Breyer in the landmark gun rights case McDonald v. Chicago. At issue was whether the Second Amendment should join the First Amendment and other rights-protecting provisions from the Bill of Rights and become binding on state and local governments via the 14th Amendment. The majority held that the amendment should indeed apply against the states, and Chicago’s handgun ban was therefore nullified for violating the individual right to keep and bear arms. In his dissent, Breyer argued that not only was Chicago permitted to ban handguns, but the Second Amendment did not protect any sort of individual right to self-defense. According to Breyer's dissent, the private ownership of guns is open to almost unlimited control by “democratically elected legislatures.”
Sotomayor is right that the Supreme Court is likely to take up another big gun rights case in the near future, but I don’t think we need to wait until then to discover her views on the proper scope of the Second Amendment.