L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 197, November 4, 2002
Searching the Land for a Pro-Gun-Rights Judge
Special to TLE
It's unusual for Gun Owners of America, the nation's largest gun- rights lobby, to endorse in a judicial race. But they mailed a little green postcard to all their Nevada members last week, urging a vote for Nevada state Supreme Court candidate Don Chairez. I rang Larry Pratt in Northern Virginia to ask him about that.
"It's unusual for a judicial candidate to even return one of our questionnaires," explained GOA's executive director, "so when we see one returned and he answers the questions right, we sit up and take notice."
GOA takes note of the fact Chairez is "a conservative Republican who's run for Congress" (unsuccessfully, against Shelley Berkley in '98), and thus has name recognition, Pratt explained. It also can't hurt that Chairez and incumbent Bill Maupin stand about even on available campaign cash (Maupin has $93,000 left to spend, and Chairez $75,000, according to the candidates' latest campaign finance reports) or that - should Chairez win - he'd be one of only a handful of Hispanic jurists sitting on a state Supreme Court anywhere in the country.
And a conservative Republican Hispanic, to boot? That alone could put Chairez on a short list for eventual elevation to the federal bench, even if he weren't already a hero of the property-rights movement for standing up to the corrupt Las Vegas political establishment, ruling in 1996 that the city redevelopment agency violated the law when it stole downtown private properties and turned them over to downtown casino moguls.
But while philosophical support for individual rights is well and good, how many gun rights cases reach the state Supreme Court, I asked Chairez. Would he be able to make a difference on such issues? "Frankly ... most of the lawyers in this state don't believe it's worthwhile to challenge a law on constitutional grounds," Chairez responds.
But, "Judges are on the bench because of their values," Chairez insists. "Either they do or don't have any trouble striking down government that's excessive, and that's the big difference between Judge Maupin and me, he's always stood up for big government."
The only reason we're starting to see any discussion of such substantive issues in judicial races, of course, is that in June the U.S. Supreme Court, in Republican Party of Minnesota vs. Kelly, threw out on First Amendment grounds a state law prohibiting judicial candidates from announcing their views on "disputed legal or political issues."
But that wasn't sufficient to get Justice Maupin - who says he can't remember receiving questionnaires from either GOA or the NRA - to answer any of my gun-rights questions this week.
I asked Judge Maupin whether he believes it's constitutional - under either the Nevada or the U.S. Constitution - to require licenses or permits to carry a concealed weapon. (None are required in Vermont, for example.)
"Obviously I support the right to bear arms; that's in the Constitution," Judge Maupin told me.
"So it is a right and not a privilege?" I asked - precisely the same question worded a different way.
But this time Judge Maupin weaseled. "If you're getting ready to ask me a series of questions on contested legal issues, we currently have the decision in Minnesota under study with the Committee on Judicial Elections. ... It still remains unclear ... whether a judge could sit on a matter once having spoken out. If you had a case coming up before the Supreme Court, would you want to go before a jurist who's already stated a public opinion about your case?"
This is pretty old sheep dip, of course. I wasn't asking about specific cases. In fact, I replied that as a defendant I'd be pleased as punch to know the judge was on the record in advance saying all gun laws are unconstitutional, and as a voter I certainly would want to know where a judge candidate stood on such general, constitutional issues. Could lawmakers ban .50-caliber rifles, for example, or would that be unconstitutional?
"You're asking me a question about a legal issue that I haven't had a chance to study. ... I believe that it is our obligation as the head of the court system here in Nevada to make sure that there is a no perception out there that judges are pre-judging cases ... . I just can't get into that discourse and won't."
Compare this to Chairez, who answered "opposed" to every piece of proposed gun control legislation on the GOA questionnaire, and who favors "Vermont-style legislation that would eliminate all requirements to pay fees and register gun owners and simply allow law- abiding citizens to carry firearms openly or concealed (at the individual's discretion) for any reason except for the commission of a crime."
Isn't that pretty radical, I asked Chairez, who won the $3,000 Curtis LeMay-style 1911 Colt .45 custom-built by CCS Guns at the Friends of the NRA banquet here at the Elks Hall in Las Vegas back on Sept. 6?
"It's like Hugo Black used to say," Chairez explains. "The Bill of Rights, those are absolute rights. It says 'Congress shall make no law,' and that means no law, and it's the same thing for the Second Amendment. The rules have to be absolute, bright line rules."
The Chairez for state Supreme Court campaign can accept contributions of up to $10,000 per person or PAC, at: Chairez for Supreme Court, 3450 East Russell Road, Las Vegas, NV 89120 -- yes, even if they arrive after the election.
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