Are abstinence-only sex-education programs ineffective?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher on "Teen Pregnancy" by Marcia Clemmitt, March 26, 2010
Over the past few years, the first large-scale, federally funded analyses of abstinence-only sex-ed programs have emerged, and by and large the news has been complex and not terribly encouraging.

Studies overwhelmingly have found little or no evidence that abstinence-only courses change teen sexual behavior in ways that would avert pregnancies or the spread of STDs. But abstinence-education supporters say most studies take a too-narrow view of what constitutes reliable evidence. Some research, they say, has found good effects from abstinence-only programs.

Recent research clearly “shows that the Bush-era approach of abstinence-only funding is dead,” says James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that supports strong informational programs to improve adolescent sexual health.

For example, in 2007 a congressionally mandated study of four federally funded abstinence-only programs, conducted by Mathematica, a Princeton, N.J.-based research company, found that abstinence programs did not prevent children in elementary and middle school from changing behaviors that raise teens' risk of pregnancy. Specifically, it found that upper-elementary and middle-school students who completed abstinence programs were no more likely than those who didn't take the classes to abstain from sex, delay sex or have fewer sexual partners. The result was the same both in schools where there was little information available on sex and contraception outside of the abstinence program and in schools where students got a great deal of such information, in health classes and elsewhere. [Footnote 15]

In November 2009, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported after analyzing more than 40 abstinence-only strategies that there is “insufficient evidence to determine” whether “group-based abstinence education” effectively prevents pregnancies or STDs.* By contrast, the task force found that evidence shows comprehensive sex education does reduce the number of teens who have sex and the frequency that sexually active teens have sex, their number of partners and their risk of STDs, the panel said. [Footnote 16]

The task force explicitly recommended that comprehensive sex-ed be “delivered to adolescents to promote behaviors that … reduce the risk of pregnancy” and STDs instead of abstinence-only programs. [Footnote 17]

Randomized control trials like the Mathematica study — in which some students were randomly assigned to a specific sex-ed course while another randomly chosen “control” group did not take the course — are considered the gold standard of scientific evidence. But social conservatives who say abstinence-only education is the only morally responsible approach to sex education argue that social-science questions are driven by such diverse multiple factors that randomized trials cannot possibly capture all of the value provided by abstinence education. Other types of research have found significant merit in abstinence education, they say.

“I started with a very skeptical attitude, thinking how in the world could [abstinence education] work, given the culture and the society that kids live in,” said Stanley Weed, founder and senior fellow at the Salt Lake City-based Institute for Research and Evaluation, a nonprofit organization that has analyzed many abstinence-only curricula. But “since that time I have learned that it can work. Not all [abstinence programs] do, but many of them do, and we have learned which ones do, and why." [Footnote 18]

Weed said his analyses found that abstinence programs used in several states substantially decrease the number of students who began having sex within a year after completing the course. In one Virginia district, nine percent of students began having intercourse a year after they finished the abstinence program that Weed studied, compared to an average of 16.4 percent of students in that district who would have been expected to initiate sex by that age, for example. [Footnote 19]

Of the many analysts who commented on their research to the CDC task force, two found “serious limitations” in the panel's conclusions about abstinence-only programs. Notably, the panel unfairly ignored findings that abstinence programs reduce teens' sexual activity because the results didn't come from randomized control trials, wrote Irene Ericksen, a researcher at the Institute for Research and Evaluation, and Danielle Ruedt, a public-health programs coordinator in the Governor's Office for Children and Families in Georgia. And the panel's report also implied that sex ed focusing on contraceptive information “is a superior approach,” a conclusion they said was “not supported by the evidence” examined by the task force. [Footnote 20]

Earlier this year, a randomized control study for the first time showed significant positive results for an abstinence-focused program, according to research led by the University of Pennsylvania's Jemmott. He found that a specific abstinence-only program helped delay the first sexual experience for a group of mostly 12-year-old African-American students in urban schools. Only about a third of the program participants began having sex within the next two years, compared to 42 percent of those who attended a safe-sex program. [Footnote 21]

“This is a rigorous study that means we can now say that it's possible for an abstinence-only intervention to be effective,” said Jemmott. [Footnote 22]

“We now have, for the first time, news that an abstinence intervention can help,” says Albert, of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “This course did take an approach that is different” from more traditional abstinence-only programs, he explains. “It did honestly answer questions about contraception, and it did not say ‘delay until marriage.’” Perhaps because of that difference, it “did not reduce condom use.”

Rebecca A. Maynard, a professor of education and social policy at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, says the main takeaway from all the recent studies should be that, generally speaking, “abstinence education does no better and no worse than comprehensive” sex education. In fact, neither has been shown to strongly affect teens' behavior, she concludes.

The Mathematica study, for example, showed that “abstinence-only education didn't hurt kids,” she says, while comprehensive sex-ed proponents had long argued that it would, by decreasing condom use. But abstinence-only sex ed also wasn't “the solution to the problem.” In essence, she says, the body of research now available shows “no significant difference” between abstinence-only and abstinence-plus (comprehensive sex education) programs.

That's not surprising, she explains. The content of most abstinence-only programs “overlaps greatly with abstinence-plus” programs. The best courses of both varieties “all have a core of things about values, peer pressure and good decision-making,” while they “diverge only in saying ‘you may not ever’ [in the case of abstinence-only courses] or ‘you may not want to’ [in abstinence-plus].”

Critics' complaints about both kinds of courses are largely caricatures. “Very, very few curricula say, ‘God will strike you dead if you have sex,’ or, on the abstinence-plus side, “‘Just go have fun, and don't think about the consequences,’” Maynard says.

*Comprehensive sex-education — the alternative to abstinence-only curricula and sometimes called abstinence-plus or comprehensive risk reduction — recommends delaying sex but focuses strongly on informing students about condom use and contraception.

The Issues:
*Are abstinence-only sex-education programs ineffective?
*Will Obama's plan to fund only evidence-based sex-ed programs work?
*Does teen parenthood lead to a lifetime of hardship?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Teen Pregnancy" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

[15] Christopher Trenholm, et al., “Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs,” Mathematica Policy Research Inc., April 2007, .
[16] Quoted in Daniel J. DeNoon, “Expert Panel Rejects Abstinence-Only Sex Ed,” WebMD Health News online, Nov. 6, 2009. The Task Force report has not yet been formally released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[17] Quoted in ibid.
[18] Quoted in “Hearing on Domestic Abstinence-only Programs: Assessing the Evidence,” transcript, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, April 23, 2008.
[19] Quoted in ibid.
[20] Irene Ericksen and Danielle Ruedt, “A Minority Report: Fundamental Concerns About the CDC Meta-Analysis of Group-based Interventions to Prevent Adolescent Pregnancy, HIV, and Other STIs,” Nov. 18, 2009.
[21] For background, see Lewin, “Quick Response to Study of Abstinence Education,” op. cit.
[22] Quoted in ibid.

Tea Party reaction

The character of the Tea Party movement is getting more scrutiny in the wake of an anti-health care legislation rally marked by racist and homophobic insults.

At the demonstration, held the day before the crucial House vote on Sunday, some demonstrators yelled the n-word at Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., Andre Carson, D-Ind., James Clyburn, D-Mo., and Emanuel Cleaver, D-S.C. Clyburn said he was spit upon. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is homosexual, was subjected to anti-gay chants.

Some Tea Party critics who witnessed the rally had their views of the movement amply confirmed. "A few hundred Tea Party-types clustered on the south end of the Capitol on Sunday, trying to kill health care reform, fouling the crisp spring air with shouts of violence and loathing," reported Lawrence Downes, a New York Times editorial writer.

Downes also noted that a rally participant urged demonstrators to step away from hate-mongers and post their pictures on the Web.

"I absolutely think it's isolated," Amy Kremer, a coordinator of Tea Party Express, one part of the movement, told Fox News on Sunday, McClatchy Newspapers reported. "It's disgraceful and the people in this movement won't tolerate it because that's not what we're about." House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ind., condemned the hate speech as "reprehensible."

Nevertheless, one Republican lawmaker the next day appeared to rationalize the hate speech. "Yeah, well I think that when you use totalitarian tactics, people, you know, begin to act crazy," Rep. Devin Nunes said on C-Span, in comments widely circulated on the liberal side of the blogosphere. "I think, you know, there’s people that have every right to say what they want. If they want to smear someone, they can do it." He added: "It’s not appropriate."

Away from Washington, another high-profile Tea Party movement leader, Dana Loesch of St. Louis, didn't indulge in racism or homophobia, but certainly didn't hold back her rage. "Last night, a new party was born; the malignant tumor that is the progressive caucus consumed the Democrat party from within and gave birth to the mainstream Socialist Party," she wrote in a Web-published column. "There is no dignity left in a House run by political prostitutes....We will hold every Republican to the fire and so help us if they don’t fight until their last breath to repeal this massive affront to liberty we will burn them in effigy along with the traitors to the Constitution."

Will the Tea Party movement reshape the Republican Party?

The following is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher on "The Tea Party Movement" by Peter Katel, March 19, 2010.

It remains to be seen whether the Tea Party can foment national political change. But some political observers think the movement is well-placed to drive the GOP rightward, especially on economic policy issues. Others say it's a fringe faction that ultimately will lose steam.

One outcome is fairly certain: The Tea Party movement would be seriously undercut if it evolved into a third political party — historically the route taken by new movements that want to broaden the national debate. Most Tea Party activists argue against such a move. “If you create a third party you guarantee that it's going to split Republican votes and guarantee socialist Democrat victories,” says Right Wing News publisher Hawkins. He predicts that the Tea Party instead will effectively take over the GOP.

To be sure, the prevailing view in liberal circles is that the Republican Party has already moved far to the right. Even some senior Republicans are delivering much the same message.

“To those people who are pursuing purity, you'll become a club not a party,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Politico, a Washington-based online newspaper, last November. He spoke following the failed attempt by Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman to win a congressional seat in upstate New York, replacing the Republican incumbent, who was judged by the party establishment as too liberal. (Democrat Bill Owens won the seat.)

“Those people who are trying to embrace conservatism in a thoughtful way that fits the region and the state and the district are going to do well,” Graham said. “Conservatism is an asset. Blind ideology is not.” [Footnote 15]

Some Washington-based conservatives question the possibility that any movement based on political principles can exert deep and lasting influence on the political process, where fulltime participants tend to act as much — or more — from self-interest as from ideology.

A movement that channels itself into a party inevitably suffers the dilution of its ideas, a conservative writer argued during the February panel discussion in Washington organized by the America's Future Foundation. “Politics is a profession, and the temptation, once we're in charge, is to say, ‘We're going to fix everything, we're going to solve everything,’ not realizing that people involved in these parties are human beings and susceptible to compromise,” said Kelly Jane Torrance, literary editor of the Washington-based American Conservative magazine.

The absence of a Tea Party institutional presence makes its absorption by professional politicians inevitable, she added. “People seem to need a charismatic leader or organizer or an institution, which is why I think the movement is basically being eaten up by the Republican Party,” she said.

But some Tea Party activists argue that promoting their ideas within the GOP is essential if the movement is to avoid being marginalized. “There's got to be communication with the political party establishment,” says Karin Hoffman, a veteran Republican activist from Lighthouse Point, Fla. “The Democratic Party has done everything to ridicule the movement,” she says, while the GOP platform “matches what the grassroots movement feels.”

Hoffman orchestrated a Washington meeting this February between 50 Tea Party-affiliated activists and Republican Chairman Steele. Hoffman says she's on guard against the danger of Tea Party activists becoming nothing more than Republican auxiliaries.

“I've not been happy with how Republicans have behaved,” she says, citing the reduced-price system for prescription drugs under Medicare that President Bush pushed through in 2003. “We don't need an increase in government.”

Disillusionment with Bush is commonplace among tea partiers, who tend to have been Bush voters in 2000 and 2004. The shift in their support — or, alternatively, their view that he abandoned principles they thought he shared with them — underscores the potential obstacles to reshaping national parties. “Even with a relatively diffuse organization, they can have influence just because of visibility, and can pull conventions and rallies,” says Sides of George Washington University. “But that's not a recipe for transformational change.”

Sides cites the history of the Club for Growth, an organization of economic conservatives that rates lawmakers on their votes on taxes, spending and related issues. “No one would say that the Club for Growth has been able to remake the Republican Party,” Sides says, “but it has exerted influence in certain races.”

Republican consultant and blogger Soren Dayton disputes that view. “If you look at the electoral and policy successes of the conservative movement — look at the Republican Party,” Dayton said at the America's Future Foundation event. “Abortion, guns and taxes are settled issues. If you're an activist on these issues, the point is actually changing the minds of Democrats.”

The reason for that ideological victory is easy to identify, Soren said. “We're winning these [electoral] fights on the ground because the Republican Party is solid — because it's been taken over in certain significant ways by conservatives.”

The Issues

* Does the Tea Party represent only a narrow segment of the population?
* Will the Tea Party movement reshape the Republican Party?
* Does the Tea Party attract conspiracy theorists?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "The Tea Party Movement" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

[15] Quoted in Manu Raju, “Lindsey Graham warns GOP against going too far right,” Politico, Nov. 4, 2009.

Prosecuting Terrorists

Should suspected terrorists be given military or civil trials?
By Kenneth Jost, March 12, 2010

President Obama is under fierce political attack for the administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Christmas Day bomber, in civilian courts instead of military tribunals. Republican lawmakers argue the defendants in both cases should be treated as “enemy combatants” and tried in the military commissions established during the Bush administration. Administration officials and Democratic lawmakers say criminal prosecutions are more effective, having produced hundreds of convictions since 9/11 compared to only three in the military system. And they insist that Abdulmutallab is providing useful information under interrogation by FBI agents. But the administration is reconsidering Attorney General Eric Holder's original decision to hold Mohammed's trial in New York City and considering making greater use of military commissions with other terrorism cases.

The Issues

* Should suspected terrorists be tried in civilian courts?
* Should suspected terrorists be tried in military tribunals?
* Should some Guantánamo detainees be held indefinitely without trial?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Prosecuting Terrorists" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

Is youth violence on the upswing?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue on "Youth Violence" by Thomas J. Billitteri, March 5, 2010:

To read the news in recent months it would be easy to think the nation is in the grip of a new youth crime wave. In Patchogue, on Long Island, seven teens were charged in a fatal assault on an Ecuadorian immigrant, and prosecutors alleged a pattern of teen violence against Hispanics in the area. [Footnote 15] In Texas, two young men, 19 and 21, were charged with a church fire, and authorities said they may face charges in nine others. [Footnote 16]

But Barry Krisberg, former president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and now a distinguished senior fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, law school, says youth crime “is way down from the peak in the middle 1990s.” Since then, he adds, “it leveled off a little bit, and the latest numbers suggest it's down again. There's hardly a surge of it at any level.”

In testimony last year to a congressional hearing, Krisberg said much of the public's perception of rising youth crime is based on the way news outlets report on crime.

A study conducted in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and San Mateo County, Calif., found that the media consistently reported increases in juvenile crime — if they were short-term increases — but not crime decreases, he said. In addition, Krisberg said, the media consistently attributed most of the violence problems to youth whereas most violence was committed by young adults. And, he said, the media often failed to offer context: “They don't do a good job of answering the ‘why’ questions.” [Footnote 17]

The relentless airing of incidents over the Internet has only heightened the public's view that youth crime is surging.

Still, in some cities, and in some neighborhoods, perception and reality can be one.

“These [aggregate crime] data are numbers from all over the country put into a blender, and in some communities the levels are very low, and in other communities they are crazy high,” says Melissa Sickmund, chief of systems research at the National Center for Juvenile Justice. “You can't go into a community that's experiencing a real problem in their world, on their streets, with their kids ending up dead or their kids ending up behind bars because they committed these crimes, and tell them nationally stuff is down, it's not a problem.”

In Pittsburgh, an informal survey of students ages 9 to 18 in urban neighborhoods found that almost 80 percent have had family members or friends wounded or killed by gun violence. [Footnote 18] In South Philadelphia, parents, teachers and activists testified recently at a public hearing on school violence in the wake of several highly publicized incidents, including the fatal shooting of a high school football star.[Footnote 19]

Jeffrey Butts, a criminologist who this spring will become executive director of the Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, points out that while aggregate youth crime has not been going up nationally, it can seem that way. Crime, he says, is “very local,” meaning crime rates may vary among neighborhoods a few blocks from each other.

“If you're living in a poor, disadvantaged neighborhood with no infrastructure and lots of gang activity, it can seem that [crime] has gotten lots worse in the last couple of years,” he says. Criminologists are only now developing reliable techniques to measure crime trends at the neighborhood level, he says.

Butts says violent youth crime generally has been fluctuating in a narrow range near what may turn out to be the bottom of a trough formed over the last dozen or so years. While youth crime is “not going up” he says, “I can't imagine it will go down a whole lot more, especially given what's going on in the economy.”

Whatever the direction of overall trends, youth violence continues to plague pockets of many big cities, with minorities often the heaviest victims. “There remains an extraordinary and unconscionable persistent problem of extremely high violent criminal victimization,” says Kennedy of John Jay College. “This is peer-on-peer stuff…. It's extremely densely concentrated among young black men in particular neighborhoods.”

The crime is typically perpetrated by what Kennedy calls “a very small population of high-rate offenders involved in high-rate-offending groups like gangs, drug crews, neighborhood sets, and so on…. Most of the serious violent crime in these communities is perpetrated by members of these standout groups.”

In Cincinnati, where an Operation Ceasefire program is under way, “there are about 60 of these identifiable offending groups, and they have a totality of about 1,500 people in them,” Kennedy says. “They are associated — as victims, offenders or both — with 75 percent of all the killings in Cincinnati. Those identified by name — and therefore open to criminal-history background checks — average 35 prior charges apiece.” Still, Kennedy points out, those 1,500 and all the groups associated with the killings represent a tiny fraction of the metro area's overall population.

Fox, the Northeastern University criminologist, says that in updating his study on homicides and gun killings among black youth, he found an improvement in the latest data, for 2008. Still, he says, “I don't think it changes the overall argument and overall findings that this plummeting crime rate we've been seeing in this country is not across the board and that we still have rates among certain segments, particularly young black males, that remain elevated.

“These things can vacillate from year to year. Unless we see these numbers go down for several more years, I'm still very concerned about what's happening among some Americans in some cities. And I'm concerned that there's very little attention paid toward it because overall things are better.”

The Issues

  • Is youth violence on the upswing?
  • Are minority youths singled out for arrest and detention?
  • Are “get tough” policies the best approach for fighting youth crime?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Youth Violence" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

[15] Anne Barnard, “Youth Charged With More Attacks on Latinos,” The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2009,

[16] Derrick Henry, “2 Men Charged in Texas Church Fire,” The New York Times, Feb. 21, 2010,

[17] Testimony before House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, Feb. 11, 2009,

[18] Sally Kalson, “Survey finds gun violence affects youth,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 20, 2010, The written survey of 455 students was a project of the Metro-Urban Institute of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and several other organizations.

[19] Dafney Tales, “Violence has students attending in fear,” Philadelphia Daily News, Jan. 29, 2010.

D.C. To Start Recognizing Gay Marriages

By Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher
      The District of Columbia will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday (March 3) following Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s rejection of petitions by gay marriage opponents to block the measure from going into effect.
      Roberts issued a three-page opinion late Tuesday afternoon denying the request for a stay on the ground that District of Columbia courts had rejected the opponents’ request for a referendum on the law and that Congress had not exercised its option to block the law under D.C.’s limited home law.
      Roberts also noted that opponents can still pursue an initiative to overturn the law once it goes into effect. Based on those considerations, Roberts said the full court was unlikely to agree to review the case, Jackson v. District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics.
      D.C. officials are expecting a rush of hundreds of same-sex couples to seek marriage licenses when government offices open Wednesday morning. D.C. law prescribes a three-day waiting period before couples can actually marry.
      The city council passed a law to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples on Dec. 2 by a vote of 11-2. Opponents sought a referendum to block the law, but the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that under the District’s charter laws affecting civil rights are not subject to voter disapproval.
      The District will join five states in recognizing same-sex marriages: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire. California briefly recognized gay marriages under a decision by the state’s supreme court in May 2008, but the ruling was overturned by the state’s voters in November.
      For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Gay Marriage Showdowns,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 26, 2008.

Justices Set To Enforce Gun Rights

By Kenneth Jost

      The Supreme Court appears all but certain to enforce Second Amendment gun rights against state and local governments, but without opening up a new avenue of constitutional rights litigation under an all but forgotten clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
      None of the five justices who voted two years ago to use the Second Amendment to strike down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban indicated second thoughts during arguments on March 2 in McDonald v. Chicago, a challenge to a similar handgun ban by the city of Chicago.
      The Chicago case is different from the Washington, D.C., case — known as Heller — because the District of Columbia is a federal jurisdiction. On that basis, the 2008 ruling applies only to the federal government, not state or local governments.
      At one point, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy pointedly asked the lawyer representing Chicago how the court could rule for the city without undermining the ruling in the D.C. case. “How could some member of the Court write this opinion to say that this right is not fundamental, but that Heller was correct?”
      The liberal justices who dissented in Heller appeared to make little headway with questions aimed at giving state and local governments greater discretion to regulate firearms than the federal government.
      “Every case will be on one side guns, on the other side human life,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer told the lawyer representing the Chicago residents challenging the handgun ban. “How are federal judges … rather than legislatures in the states .. . . supposed to carry this out?”
      Going into the arguments, court watchers were closely examining the strategy by plaintiffs’ lawyer Alan Gura of stressing a largely untested theory of recognizing constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment’s so-called Privileges or Immunities Clause.
      That clause says the states cannot “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” It has gone largely unused since the Supreme Court in 1873 signaled that states, not the federal government, defined most of the rights of citizenship. Other provisions of the Bill of Rights have been enforced against the states in a step-by-step process called “incorporation” based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
      Gura, the Alexandria, Va., lawyer who knocked out the D.C. handgun ban, had gotten only a couple of minutes into his argument when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sharply challenged the idea of overturning a nearly 140-year-old precedent. “It's a heavy burden for you to carry to suggest that we ought to overrule that decision,” Roberts said.
      “Why do you want to undertake that burden instead of just arguing substantive due process,” Justice Antonin Scalia asked later, “which as much as I think it's wrong, I have — even I -- have acquiesced in it?”
      Gura insisted the 1873 decision — known as the Slaughterhouse Cases — was “mistaken” and the Privileges or Immunities Clause was the better method of enforcing constitutional rights against the states. But he appeared to disconcert several of the justices when he said that approach would apply all of the Bill of Rights provisions to the states, including the currently unincorporated requirements of a grand jury indictment in all criminal cases and jury trial in most civil cases.
      Appearing on behalf of the National Rifle Association as a friend of the court, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement told the justices that “selective incorporation” was a “remarkably straightforward” way to apply the Second Amendment to the states. As solicitor general, Clement had represented the federal government in the D.C. case, urging the court to recognize a Second Amendment right to possess firearms but subject to extensive regulation.
      The hour-long arguments shed little light on the potential scope of the Second Amendment right if, as expected, it is applied to state and local gun laws. Writing for the majority in the 2008 case, Scalia suggested four categories of laws likely to be upheld. They included bans on carrying concealed weapons, prohibitions on possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, restrictions on carrying of firearms in “sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” and laws setting “conditions and qualifications” on firearm purchases.
      Roberts stressed the limited nature of the court’s ruling to say that gun debates would still play out mostly in the political process, not in the courts. “All the arguments you make against incorporation, it seems to me, are arguments you should make in favor of regulation under the Second Amendment,” Roberts told Chicago’s lawyer, former deputy solicitor general James Feldman. “We haven't said anything about what the content of the Second Amendment is beyond what was said in Heller.”
      Sources: Oral arguments in McDonald v. Chicago will be posted on the Supreme Court’s Web site here. Briefs and other materials can be found on SCOTUSWiki here.
      For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Gun Rights Debates,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 31, 2008, here.