Mc. Donald v. Chicago (2010)

This case is about guns, but it’s also about the process of Selective Incorporation through the 14th Amendment.

Case specific understandings:

-Connection to Heller v. D.C.
-Chicago’s restrictive gun legislation
-Role of 14th Amendment & Selective Incorporation
-Impact of case on states with equally restrictive gun laws

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Facts of the Case:
A general summary of the events & individuals
Constitutional Principle:
What part(s) of the constitution apply, and what is the constitutional question posed by the case facts?
Arguments & Relevant Precedent:
Summary of arguments presented & any relevant past precedent applicable.
Summarize how the court answered the constitutional principle in question.
Case Legacy:
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McDonald v. Chicago and Selective Incorporation through the 14th Amendment


The U.S. Constitution serves as the bedrock of American law, but its interpretation has evolved over time. One such significant transformation is how the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) applies to the states. This chapter will explore the pivotal case of McDonald v. Chicago and the broader concept of selective incorporation through the 14th Amendment.

The Fourteenth Amendment and Selective Incorporation

Before diving into the McDonald case, it’s essential to understand the doctrine of “selective incorporation.” This process involves applying the Bill of Rights to state governments, selectively, one right at a time.

The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, contains a clause stating that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Over time, the U.S. Supreme Court began to interpret this “Due Process Clause” as a means of ensuring states recognized the rights listed in the Bill of Rights.

However, instead of applying all these rights simultaneously, the Court has chosen, case by case, which ones apply to the states—a process termed “selective incorporation.”

Key Court Cases Preceding McDonald:

1. Gitlow v. New York (1925): The Court held that states must respect freedom of speech. Benjamin Gitlow was prosecuted by New York for publishing socialist materials, but the Court used the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause to apply the First Amendment to the states.

2. Mapp v. Ohio (1961): In this case, evidence obtained via an illegal search and seizure by state officers was excluded from a state trial. The Court decided that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and its exclusionary rule, also applied to state courts.

3. Gideon v. Wainwright (1963): Clarence Earl Gideon was denied an attorney in a Florida court, leading the Supreme Court to rule that states must provide attorneys in criminal cases to those who cannot afford one, extending the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel to state trials.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010): Background and Ruling

Background: After the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own guns, Otis McDonald challenged Chicago’s strict gun-control laws, arguing they infringed on his Second Amendment rights.

Ruling: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense applicable to the states. This decision effectively extended the reach of the Second Amendment, making it more challenging for states and local governments to enact strict gun control measures.

Implications and Significance

McDonald v. Chicago is particularly notable for its reinforcement of the doctrine of selective incorporation. The Court’s decision provided a clear message that individual rights protected by the Bill of Rights were not just limitations on the federal government but also on state and local governments.

While the majority of the Bill of Rights have been incorporated to apply to the states, not all have. Cases like McDonald illustrate the Court’s ongoing role in defining the relationship between state powers and individual rights.

Selective incorporation, through the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause, has fundamentally reshaped American jurisprudence. Over the past century, rights that were once only limitations on the federal government have become protections against state actions. The McDonald case exemplifies this trend, underscoring the living, evolving nature of constitutional interpretation.