SCOTUSblog has linked to a number of amicus briefs being filed in District of Columbia v. Heller, the high-stakes Second Amendment case. As you might expect, all the usual suspects are lined up: the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, linguistics professors…
Wait a minute. Linguistics professors?
As Legal Times’ Tony Mauro reported, the case could come down to the meaning of a comma. The brief (link to PDF) is filed on behalf of linguistics professors Dennis Baron of the University of Illinois, Richard Bailey of the University of Michigan, and Jeffrey Kaplan of San Diego State University. Frederick Whitmer and Charles Dyke of Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner, among others, argue:
Under longstanding linguistic principles that were well understood and recognized at the time the Second Amendment was adopted, the “well regulated Militia” clause necessarily adds meaning to the “keep and bear Arms” clause by furnishing the reason for the latter’s existence. The first clause is what linguists call an “absolute construction” or “absolute clause.” … On its face, the language of the Amendment tells us that the reason why the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed is because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free State. The purpose of the Second Amendment, therefore, is to perpetuate “a well regulated Militia.”
The brief cites such noted legal tomes as the Oxford English Dictionary, Webster’s Dictionary, and the American Heritage Book of English Usage.
Noted linguistics blog Language Log has its own interpretation.