Randy Barnett: Abortion, Guns, and the Future of the Supreme Court

The leading libertarian legal theorist talks about worrying trends at the Supreme Court as a conservative majority takes hold.


As the most momentous Supreme Court term in recent memory comes to a close, are things better or worse for libertarians?

Georgetown Law's Randy Barnett is arguably the most important and influential libertarian legal scholar walking the planet today. Over the years, he's argued against Obamacare and for medical marijuana in front of the Supreme Court. In books like Restoring the Lost Constitution and The Structure of Liberty, he's developed the concept of what he calls "judicial engagement," or the idea that judges need to be more forceful in striking down laws that restrict rights guaranteed by the Constitution. At the same time, he's a powerful critic of liberal judicial activism where judges effectively create law out of ideological preference and he pushes back against conservative majoritarianism, which holds that legislatures can basically do whatever they want.

In a nearly two-hour-long conversation, I talk with Barnett about the Dobbs decision that struck down a women's right to an abortion, the Bruen decision that struck down a New York state law limiting the ability of gun owners to carry weapons, and other major rulings. We talk about the general direction of the Supreme Court and whether it's headed in a more—or less—libertarian direction. And we discuss the treatment of Ilya Shapiro, the former Cato staffer who was going to join Barnett at Georgetown until a controversy erupted over one of Shapiro's tweets.

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