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A less deferential high court

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•In Washington, city officials besieged by gun violence and fearful of firearms accidents enacted a ban on handguns. In a 5-to-4 decision last Thursday, the court struck down the ban, ruling that city residents – and all Americans – have a right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense.

•State lawmakers in Louisiana wanted to protect children from sexual predators, so they passed a law making child rape a capital crime. In a 5-to-4 decision last Wednesday, the justices struck down the law, saying there was a national consensus that a death sentence would be cruel and unusual punishment for a child rapist unless he killed his victim.

•In 2006, Congress and the president passed a law that sharply limited the ability of foreign terror suspects to challenge the legality of their open-ended detention at Guantánamo Bay. In a 5-to-4 decision on June 12, the court struck down the law and ordered the government to give the detainees access to American judges.

The Guantánamo ruling prompted a fiery dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who warned that the decision "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed." He and Chief Justice John Roberts blasted the majority justices for failing to accord the proper level of deference to the political branches of government.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the Guantánamo decision, said the court had a duty to act and say what the law is. "The political branches," he said, "can engage in a genuine debate about how best to preserve constitutional values while protecting the nation from terrorists."

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