Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eloquent Confusion

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is a great example of eloquent confusion. The Amendment reads, in its entirety: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

It sure sounds impressive, but what the heck does it mean? The Amendment was written by some pretty smart guys who undoubtedly spent a lot of time hashing out the wording. Even given that it was written a long time ago, and the language has evolved, it still is undecipherable.

People have argued for decades whether they're talking about individual rights or collective rights of a militia to bear arms. The Supreme Court decided today that it means that individuals do indeed have the right to arm themselves. It's a narrowly constructed decision and there are lots of caveats that will encourage a steady stream of lawsuits to further flesh out what was meant.

One simple reminder I've taken away from this case is that the legal profession thrives on resolving the meaning of poorly drafted documents. I wish that I had spent a little bit more effort paying attention in my English composition classes.


Anonymous said...

Since we don't have militias, how is this passage even worthy of debate? Another example of political interpretation of antiquated rights. All the money for the war on drugs should go to banning guns.

SpecRider on the Storm said...

Aside from the constitutional matter; contractual language has a similar problem. I teach lawyers how to write - and they seem intent on creating the same bombastic rhetoric as the passage you referenced... so I asked why.

Strange as it might seem, lawyers get paid to interpret these sorts of passages. I actually had a lawyer write something so outrageous that I could not see how it would ever form a legal contract. His argument? Let them (the other guy) take it to court, he would get paid twice for the same work. [his opinioin not mine]

Incontrovertible said...

Double billing? Lawyers? Who would have guessed?