Chief Justice Burger and the Second Amendment
Critics of the current interpretation of the Second Amendment are fond of quoting Chief Justice Warren Burger’s charge that the Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” The Chief Justice said this in an interview after he retired, but the quote has taken on a life of its own.
Having heard this quote repeated many times over the years, I feel compelled to say two things about it. The first is that this is the only time anybody quotes Warren Burger in a positive way. You don’t traction in constitutional debate by invoking Chief Justice Burger. The second (and related) point is that the late Chief Justice was (and I thought hard about the right word to use here) a chowderhead. The other Justices had a low opinion of him, his opinions are uniformly mediocre, and he was not a distinguished thinker. The Court’s reading of the Second Amendment may be wrong, but not because Burger thought so.