Cheney Joins Congress In Opposing D.C. Gun Ban

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 9, 2008

Vice President Cheney signed on to a brief filed by a majority of Congress yesterday that urged the Supreme Court to uphold a ruling that the District of Columbia's handgun ban is unconstitutional, breaking with his own administration's official position.

Cheney joined 55 senators and 250 House members in asking the court to find that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess firearms and to uphold a lower court's ruling that the D.C. ban violates that right. That position is at odds with the one put forward by the administration, which angered gun rights advocates when it suggested that the justices return the case to lower courts for further review.

In order to make his dramatic break with the administration, Cheney invoked his rarely used status as part of Congress, joining the brief as "President of the United States Senate, Richard B. Cheney." It is a position he has used at times to make the point that he is sometimes part of the legislative branch and sometimes part of the executive.

"That is one of his titles," Cheney press secretary Megan Mitchell said when asked whether it was significant that he had joined the brief in that capacity rather than as vice president.

The position puts Cheney at odds with a brief filed by U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, who represents the government and the Bush administration before the Supreme Court. Clement said that the court should recognize the individual right but that the lower court's ruling was so broad it could endanger federal gun-control measures, such as a ban on possession of new machine guns.

Clement urged the court to send the D.C. law, the strictest in the nation, back to lower courts for further review.

The government's position, which technically supported neither the District nor those challenging the law, nonetheless infuriated supporters of gun rights. They saw it as an abandonment of their cause just as the court was ready to interpret the Second Amendment for the first time in 70 years.

The effort to draw up a brief for lawmakers was led by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.). When she disclosed the names of her co-signers on Thursday, Cheney's was not among them. But his name was added when the legal brief was filed yesterday.

Lawyers said it may be unprecedented for a vice president to take a position in a case before the high court that is at odds with one the Justice Department puts forward as the administration's official position.

"To my knowledge, I don't recollect it ever happening before," said Richard Lazarus, co-director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown Law Center.

Bush spokesman Tony Fratto emphasized where the sides agreed rather than where they disagreed.

"Like the members of Congress who signed the amicus brief, the president strongly believes that the Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear firearms," Fratto said.

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