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Professor Michael Curtis to participate in live national panel discussion on gun control, constitutional rights

Wake Forest University Law Professor Michael Kent Curtis, the Judge Donald L. Smith Professional in Constitutional and Public Law, will participate in a live national panel discussion, Beyond Gun Control: McDonald v. City of Chicago and Incorporation of the Bill of Rights, at 1:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 25, via teleconference and audio webcast. The program is sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of State and Local Government Law, and the ABA Center of Continuing Legal Education.

Hawaii-based attorney Mark Murakami of Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert will be moderating the panel of national experts who will speak on the issue of gun control as well as constitutional rights. The other panelists are Lawrence Rosenthal, Professor of Law at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif.; and Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief of Cato Supreme Court Review, both in Washington, D.C.

The panel will discuss issues in the McDonald v. City of Chicago, a case that is asking whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, or the Due Process Clause makes the Second Amendment applicable to the states and local governments. The case challenges a Chicago ordinance prohibiting possession of handguns in the home, which has generated national media attention. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in case in March 2010.

Curtis explains that the issue in the McDonald case relates to application of the liberties in the Bill of Rights to the states, specifically the Second Amendment right to bear arms. In 1833 the Supreme Court ruled that none of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights limited state and local governments. These merely limited federal power. Several of the leading framers of the Fourteenth Amendment (proposed in 1866 after the Civil War) said the Amendment was designed to change the rule in Barron and to require states to obey the commands of the Bill of Rights. But for many years the Court rejected applying Bill of Rights liberties to the states. It began gradually to apply them, and by the end of the 1960s, most of the guarantees were held to limit the states. The Second Amendment, however, has not yet been held to limit state and local governments. In District of Columbia v. Heller the Court held the Second Amendment right was a personal right. In that case the Court struck down a District of Columbia ordinance that prohibited the possession of usable handguns in the home. The McDonald case raises the issue of whether the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment to the Constitution applies to state and local governments and so limits the kinds of firearm regulations they can enact.

Curtis teaches constitutional law, free speech, and legal and constitutional history at Wake Forest law school. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on application of the Bill of Rights to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. He has spoken widely on the subject, written numerous articles on the subject, and addressed it a length in his book No State Shall Abridge: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights. His more recent book, Free Speech, The People’s Darling Privilege deals with the evolution of free speech rights and with the effort—in connection with the crusade against slavery — to make rights of free speech, press, and assembly a limit on state power under the Fourteenth Amendment.