An Analysis Of The Case NRA Vs. Reno
By Roger J. Katz, Attoney at Law and Stephen L. D’Andrilli
New York, NY -(Ammoland.com)- MISUSE OF LEGISLATIVE HISTORY WHEN ATTEMPTING TO DECIPHER THE PLAIN MEANING OF A STATUTE
We have discussed a major flaw in the reasoning of Judges Tatel and Garland in Part 5 of this multi-series article.
There is a second, equally serious flaw in the reasoning of Judge Tatel and Judge Garland, when they ruled in favor of Janet Reno, against NRA and, therefore, against the right of the people to keep and bear arms, in the Reno case.
The Judges relied on Legislative history to buttress the conclusion they sought, namely, that the Justice Department was not required to destroy NICS records immediately.
In the misuse of Legislative history, the Judges committed a cardinal fallacy of logic.
They assumed what they needed to prove, namely that failure of Congress to add the word, ‘immediately,’ before the word ‘destroy,’ in 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(2)(c)(C), means that Janet Reno could unilaterally decide to keep NICS records for 6 months, or 6 years, or for any length of time – even indefinitely, for that matter – because no specific time limit, relating to the destruction of the NICS records, is set forth in the Statute. The idea manifests as a ludicrous idea assumed to be true rather than a conclusion to be derived. And the assumption is predicated on a specific piece of legislative history. They said,
“Our conclusion that section 922(t)(2)(C) does not unambiguously require immediate destruction of NICS records finds support in the Act’s legislative history. As reported to the House by the Judiciary Committee, the Brady bill contained no destruction requirement at all. See H.R. Rep. No. 103-344 (1993), reprinted in 1993 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1984. The obligation to destroy NICS records was added during floor debate. As passed by the House, the bill stated that the system shall ‘immediately destroy all records’ of allowed transactions. See 139 Cong. Rec. H9098, 9123, 9144 (daily ed. Nov. 10, 1993). The Conference Committee, however, adopted the Senate’s version of the destruction requirement, which did not contain ‘immediately.’ Compare 139 Cong. Rec. H9123 (daily ed. Nov. 10, 1993) (House version), with 139 Cong. Rec. S16506 (daily ed. Nov. 19, 1993) (Senate version). It was this version that both houses approved and the President signed.”
Judges Tatel and Garland presume that, because inclusion of the word, ‘immediately,’ appeared in the House version of the Bill but not in the final Senate version, the Justice Department could maintain records for some unspecified period of time. This is faulty logical reasoning because the Senate may just as reasonably have assumed that the addition of the adverb, ‘immediately,’ would be redundant, rather than necessary. In fact, inclusion of the word, ‘immediately,’ in the phrase, ‘destroy all records,’ is redundant. Moreover, effective legislative draftsmanship eschews use of adverbs and adjectives.
If language in a Statute would seem to require inclusion of such words in order to avoid ambiguity or vagueness, this would suggest, in most instances, that the drafters did a poor job in drafting a statute in the first place. The use of adverbs and adjectives may be useful in works of fiction, but they are generally to be avoided in legal documents and in legislation.
Consider our own Bill of Rights. For example, would the drafters of the Second Amendment have gained anything through the use of adjectives or adverbs, apart from the adjectives, ‘free’ and ‘necessary,’ through the assertion that: “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.” In the context of the Second Amendment, the adjectives ‘free’ and ‘necessary’ provide context and emphasis for elucidating the idea that only through an armed citizenry shall the American people ever hope to prevent tyranny. This is the reason we have the dependent clause in the Second Amendment at all – a point that even Republican members of Congress and supporters of the Second Amendment will not, to our knowledge, openly admit, preferring to refer only to the right of each individual to provide for his or her self-defense. This is an implication behind the Second Amendment to be sure. But, the true purpose of the Second Amendment is to check the power of the federal Government and its standing army: keeping the federal Government and its standing army “in its place,” that is to say, reminding the federal Government that it serves at the behest and pleasure of the American people and not the other way around.
Moreover, in looking to Legislative history of a Statute at all, we find in this legal and logical reasoning of Judges Tatel and Garland something markedly different in their approach to judicial reasoning when compared with the approach employed by Justice Scalia. What we need ask is whether a judge ought to be considering legislative history at all when determining the meaning of a statute.
Judges Garland and Tatel obviously say, “yes.” Justice Scalia virtually invariably said, “no.”
Although, there is some Supreme Court precedent for looking to the Legislative history of a statute in order to explicate a statute’s meaning, one must use Legislative history gingerly, if at all. Judge Scalia took a very dim view of looking to Legislative history to discern the meaning of a Statute because he felt it is unnecessary to do so, can become a crutch for those who generally look to Legislative history, where, as here, a Judge is attempting to force through a particular outcome and looks to Legislative history simply to buttress that outcome, and, lastly, when relying on Legislative history, a judge is prone to errors in legal reasoning and, this, in turn, more often than not, leads to erroneous legal decisions.
Judges Tatel and Garland use Legislative history, erroneously and in fact egregiously.
They assumed the Statute in question, 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(2)(c)(C), was ambiguous precisely because Legislative history refers to an alternate rendering of the Statute that happened to include the word, ‘immediately,’ in the House version that was never adopted by the Senate and never made it to the final enacted version of the Statute. The Judges don’t say this, but that is clear enough from an elucidation of their analysis.
The Judges argue that the Statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(2)(c)(C), is ambiguous, not because a plain reading of the Statute alludes to any instance of ambiguity or vagueness in meaning – it doesn’t – but because Judges Tatel and Garland sought to render a decision in favor of Janet Reno and the Justice Department in order to undermine the Second Amendment; and the use of and reliance on Legislative history gave the Judges the ammunition they needed to make a plausible argument in support of a decision (the conclusion) they wanted – not a decision that happened to follow from legal precedent and sound logic – in other words – a decision that they sought to avoid.
The Reno case is one prime example of misuse of Legislative history.
The case stands as an object lesson of bad legal reasoning and serves well to explain why Justice Scalia was himself loathe to rely on Legislative history except where ambiguity or vagueness is clear, and demonstrable, and unequivocal on the face of the language of a Statute under review. But that is not at all true in the Reno case. The Statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(2)(c)(C) is clear and unambiguous on its face – both in the language of the specific clause and in the context of the rest of the Statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(2)(c). The decision of the Court’s majority in the Reno case, rests on faulty logic and is predicated on the two Judges’ antipathy toward the Second Amendment.
In Part 7, the final segment of this multi-part series, we look at a legal methodology known as “textualism.” Justice Scalia was a strong proponent of this methodology for a very important reason. Adherence to the methodology promotes judicial honesty and integrity. Something altogether lacking in the majority’s opinion in the Reno case.
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