The Supremes Make a Mean 'To Duel' List

Maryland landowner Charles Dickinson and future president Andrew Jackson dueled in 1806. Painful for Jackson, deadly for Dickinson.
Maryland landowner Charles Dickinson and future president Andrew Jackson dueled in 1806. Painful for Jackson, deadly for Dickinson. (Washington Times-herald)

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008

Justice Antonin Scalia was the first to pull out the dueling words:

Justice John Paul Stevens used "faulty" analysis, Scalia wrote in the Supreme Court decision that struck down the District's handgun ban. Stevens composed the dissenting opinion; Scalia called his colleague's reasoning "worthy of a mad hatter," adding that Stevens "flatly misreads the historical record."

Oh, it is on, my good man. It is on.

Stevens replied in kind: "The Court stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading" of the Second Amendment, he wrote in his opinion, and "fundamentally fails to grasp the point" of sentence analysis. The word "feeble" was used.

One envisions a kid glove being struck repeatedly about the face. Thwap, thwap, thwap.

In the time before gun bans, this sort of dialogue might have devolved into a pair of single-shot pistols in a velvet-lined case.

It has happened before. Some of our finest forefathers resolved their verbal altercations through gentlemanly and regulated gunplay.

Missouri legislator Charles Lucas became infuriated in 1817 when Sen. Thomas Hart Benton referred to him as a "puppy." Their first duel resulted only in knee and throat wounds, which would seem sufficient for the scurrilous p-word, but the men decided to go at it again until Lucas died.

True, "feeble" is no "puppy."

But these escalations do happen. After all, District of Columbia v. Heller is a monumental court case that centered on a comma, opposing parties arguing that the punctuation mark determined who could carry weapons.

No grammatical slight is too small.

And we already have the setting for a standoff: The Bladensburg Dueling Grounds in Maryland saw more than 50 duels during the first half of the 19th century, including the one between Commodores Stephen Decatur and James Barron.


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