In these days of nearly instant communication, where everyone (and I include myself at times) is trying to put together news/commentary with the briefest examination of the source material it is critical that we remain careful readers. Careful reading is even more critical when it comes to matters of the law.
This is pointed out very nicely by the David Kopel by way of Reason w/regards to a recent ruling of the US Supreme Court:
Justice Stevens’ dissent in Heller cited a 2006 article by historian Saul Cornell. That article stated that Tucker’s 1791-92 lecture notes described the Second Amendment as relating only to the militia.
David Hardy’s article reviews Tucker’s lecture notes, as they involve various freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights….
As for the Second Amendment, Hardy finds that Cornell’s article, and therefore Justice Stevens’ opinion, contains a major factual error: the militia language which Cornell quoted was not from Tucker’s description of the Second Amendment. The language was from Tucker’s explanation of Article I’s grant of militia powers to Congress. Tucker’s description of the Second Amendment comes 20 pages later in the 1791-92 lecture notes, and is nearly a verbatim match with the text Tucker’s 1803 book, unambiguously describing the Second Amendment as encompassing a personal right for a variety of purposes, not just for militia service.
It is not unheard of for a justice (or you or me, for that matter) to make up his/her mind and then seek out sources which would support the foregone conclusion. This is, however, a remarkably dangerous approach to law. If one more justice had joined with Steven’s dissent, Heller vs DC might well be an enduring black mark on the history of American jurisprudence.