Laurence H. Tribe

  • February 13, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For far too long the gun lobby has loudly proclaimed that the Constitution bars almost any kind of law aimed at curbing gun violence. But since a string of mass shootings last year culminating in the Newtown mass shooting that took the lives of 20 children, there’s been a growing chorus of voices pushing back against the gun lobby’s platitudes and simplistic, often misleading, interpretation of the Second Amendment.

    More than 50 constitutional law scholars signed a letter explaining why the Second Amendment is not absolute or unlimited. Very few of rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution are absolute. One of the scholars who signed that letter is among the nation’s greatest constitutional law scholars -- Laurence H. Tribe, a distinguished Harvard Law School professor.

    Hours before President Obama, a former student of Tribe’s, gave his State of the Union Address, Tribe testified before a Senate Judiciary committee examining ways to curb gun violence without trampling the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

    In his oral and written testimony Tribe made it clear that efforts to reduce – not eliminate – gun violence through government action are not beyond reach because of the Second Amendment. In current Supreme Court rulings, such as D.C. v. Heller, Tribe explained the justices took certain policy choices off the table for consideration and “thereby cleared the path to reasonable regulations to be enacted without fear that those policy choices would ever open the door to unlimited government control or be imperiled by exaggerated interpretations of the Second Amendment.” (Click picture of Tribe for video of his opening remarks, or see here.)

    Tribe noted that Justice Antonin Scalia author of the majority opinion in Heller noted that the court’s interpretation of the “Constitution leaves open a variety of regulatory tools to combating the problem of gun violence in this country.”

    In his written testimony, Tribe put it this way: “Proposals to disarm the American people, to leave firearms solely in the hands of the military and the police, have been decisively taken off the table – if they were ever truly on the table – by the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions in 2008 and 2010 [Heller and McDonald v. Chicago respectively].”


  • July 15, 2010
    The nation's system for upholding the Sixth Amendment right to counsel for indigent criminal defendants is woefully lacking and needs a strong response by federal officials, writes Professor Cara H. Drinan in a recently released ACS Issue Brief.

    Drinan writes in "A Legislative Approach to Indigent Defense Reform," that indigent defense legal services are hobbled because of "drastic underfunding of indigent defense delivery systems; crushing attorney workloads that force committed defenders to compromise their ethical obligations on a daily basis; a lack of investigative and expert assistance; a chronic inability to develop meaningful attorney-client relationships; and, of course, unnecessary and sometimes unlawful imprisonment."

    Drinan, an assistant law professor at Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, says a federal response is needed to shore up the nation's system and cites statements from Attorney General Eric Holder as hope that a robust federal response is forthcoming. Holder, Drinan writes, has said that reforming indigent defense is a top priority of the Department of Justice. She also cites the fact that the administration has created an initiative to reform indigent defense, which is spearheaded by Harvard law professor and constitutional law expert Laurence H. Tribe.

    But Congress must also get involved in the matter. She notes that since the Supreme Court's landmark 1963 opinion, Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Supreme Court ruled that states have an obligation under the Sixth Amendment to provide legal representation to poor criminal defendants that many states have abdicated those constitutional responsibilities. Indeed, she explains that in 16 states "more than half of the indigent defense costs are paid for by the county; and in two states, Pennsylvania and Utah, there is no state funding at all."