Friday, June 27, 2008

We have a winner!

This, the day after the Heller decision, is a time for somber reflection, and serious consideration of where we go from here. The best of us should be preparing in depth analyses of the new legal landscape. Me, I’m going to find some whiny jerk and snark and jape at him. Everyone say hello to Maurice J. Dufilho who posted what is, in my humble opinion, the dissent to Heller. Not for Mr. Dufilho the vulgar “gun nuts compensating for tiny anatomical parts” argument so beloved of the disarmament lobby, no “wild west, blood in the streets” imagery either. Oh no, our not so humble correspondent brings his razor wit and not inconsiderable vocabulary to bear on the crux of the matter – Justice Scalia's poor Latin. I would normally just excerpt from his comments, but in this case I can’t pick the best parts so, here in all his glory, I present to you Maurice Dufilho:

I intend to finish reading the entire decision. But before I go to bed tonight, I need to point out that the good judge Scalia has stumbled in his initial premise and that this stumble has rendered his now legal decision an elegant, dark and dank pool of contradictions.

I think he is trying to tell us Justice Scalia fell into a swamp while wearing a tuxedo, of issued a decision in a swampy tuxedo or something, but no matter, we have axes to grind and metaphors to mix (shaken, not stirred).

It is noted that the honorable judge states, and I believe rightly that "'[t]he Constitution was written to be understood by voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning.'"

Hear that? That is a sigh of relief coming from the Supreme Court, “thank god we got that one right.” I bet they didn’t even call Maurice for his opinion and were just winging it. Legal precedence, years of judicial experience, and centuries of western thought…trifles; what really matters is meeting the Dufilho standard.

He continues two paragraphs down:"The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, 'Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.' Subsequently he assumes that the designated "prefatory clause" is one of purpose, and that "[l}ogic demands that there be a link between the stated purpose and the command."

I actually understood the first part. Oh wait, that’s the bit written by the judge. I’m not an expert like Maurice, but I think having a logical connection between the first and second parts of any sentence is a good thing, or else you get, “Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, …oh look, bunnies!” See how that could be a problem when you’re lining up to fight the redcoats?

Before I go any further in his Honor's dazzling and baffling assemblage of judicial wind, I would to God that someone, perhaps one of his sons who may be better educated in that knowledge of grammar and rhetoric which he seems to flaunt, would explain to him that the Second Amendment is not two clauses connected only by juxtaposition. We remember that the Constitution was written to be understood by voters, however exclusive that term "voters" may have been in the late eighteenth century. Assume that it excluded all illiterates but included all those who a traditional classical education, for example all those who were signatory to it and to earlier such documents. Any and most likely all of these people, (James Madison, for example) would have exclaimed: "Sir! do you not know the difference between an absolute and a clause!"

As to building things from wind, I think Maurice may be engaging in a little breezy construction of his own when he lets us know that the voters who could understand the wording of the constitution all seem to resemble none other than, well...Maurice Dufilho springs to mind. As an aside, I don't recall hearing of Paul Revere's contributions to classical scholarship, and Franklin was self-educated after dropping out of school after two years. On the other hand ,"Give me liberty or give me an absolute and a clause!" is a battle cry for the ages.

I say this, because as every schoolboy knows (see Thomas Babington Macaulay) from their study of Hesiod and Homer and Aeschylus as well as Virgil, Horace, and Cicero, not to mention Julius Caesar's narratives of his wars in Gaul ablative and genitive absolutes were the bane of their existence when they had to confront a schoolmaster with his stiff rod.

This schoolboy must have been out the day we covered Hesiod etal. And really, why stop there, go on after Caesar to Augustine, Aquinas, Larry, Curly, and Stephen King. Oh, and Maurice, stiff-roddded schoolmasters tend to end up in general population where their ablatives get generated good and hard- yeah you bet.

His Honor either is aware of the absolute construction in his native language or not. If not, he stumbled upon a kind of truth: what he calls the "prefatory clause" does not limit grammatically what he calls the "operative clause." But he falls off the wagon when he assumes that it announces a purpose. Again, as every schoolboy knows who has gotten his knuckles rapped forty or fifty times over his pages of Aeschylus or Cicero absolutes are absolute; they do not admit of only one relation with the second half of the statement. In Latin (which was a lingua franca on the other side of the pond pretty much to the middle of the eighteenth century) an ablative absolute governed the meaning of the main clause of the sentence.

Look, I don't think the comments section of a semi-important paper like the Chicago Tribune is the place to be discussing certain unwholesome practices involving schoolboys and any kind of whacking - there's places in some of the more obscure parts of the internet for that.

I pulled my old "Bradley's Arnold Latin Prose Composition" edited and revised by J. F. Mountford, M.A., D.Litt. published October 1938, off the shelf. And in Section 263, on page 151 Mountford refers his student from the later Section 419, on page 230 and states unequivocally: "The Ablative answers the questions whence? by what means? how? from what cause? in what manner? when? and where? And from there he elucidates the meanings of all ablative uses. What can this mean? Obviously it was not limited to purpose but more obviously it governed a statement in whatever possible facet of its meaning.

Not "Bradley's Arnold Latin Prose Composition"! Your latin-fu is strong, and it's a good thing the Brady Folk didn't have a copy lying around when they were preparing their case, or it would have been all over but the conjugating. That dreamy Ruth Ginsberg might have even invited them back to her chambers for, you know, a little weenie, weedy, weekie. As to the second part of this paragraph, it kind of answers itself, "when", "where", "what can this mean", and of course who cares?

Therefore when the honorable judge claims that the Second Amendment is divided into two clauses: the first prefatory and the second operative he has already made his call. And we have another travesty. His mind was made up before he began to spin his web and make it intricate and beautiful and amazingly deceptive.

Uh, Maurice, making calls is kind of what we pay judges to do. And really, if the people who actually wrote the Constitution, albeit without the benefit of your guidance had to get the Latin right instead of getting the country up and running, we'd still be waiting.

If his Honor was aware of the absolute, (in English it is called a nominative absolute, because cases are quickly fading from our language), I would have no alternative but to call him a bloody liar. But that cannot be because he is a good Catholic and has gone to church with Clarence Thomas, Louie Freeh, and Robert Philip Hanson.

All of this so you can call Scalia a liar? Dear god man, here is a suggestion from "Bradley's Arnold Latin Prose Composition Updated" that will save us all a lot of time ... "SCALIA SUX KTHX BAI"

1 comment:

AmericanMercenary said...


When your legal justification for your position is based on interpreting a dead language you find yourself on shaky ground.

Never mind that the framers left plenty of commentary that explained the 2nd as an individual right.

Methinks that Shakespeare would be torn apart by his lack of proper grammar and syntax from such strict scrutiny.