Sotomayor's claim that there are no Supreme Court precedents on the right to self-defense
Sotomayor: "I'm trying to think if I remember a case where the Supreme Court has addressed that particular question. Is there a constitutional right to self-defense? And I can't think of one. I could be wrong, but I can't think of one."
Well, it should have been pretty obvious that Sotomayor didn't know her constitutional law very well. First, there is the Heller case:
That of the nine state constitutional protections for the right to bear arms enacted immediately after 1789 at least seven unequivocally protected an individual citizen’s right to self-defense is strong evidence that that is how the founding generation conceived of the right. . . .
It is inconceivable that this law would have been enforced against a person exercising his right to self-defense on New Year’s Day against such drunken hooligans. . . . . Given Justice Wilson’s explanation that the right to self-defense with arms was protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution, it is unlikely that this law (which in any event amounted to at most a licensing regime) would have been enforced against a person who used firearms for self-defense. . . . .
Some older cases:
Acers v. United States 1896 164 U.S. 388 238
Is fear of a deadly attack, without reasonable demonstrated grounds for the fear, sufficient to support a claim of self defense [NO]; Must the danger be immediate [YES]; Can any object be considered as a deadly weapon depending on how it was used [YES].
Alberty v. United States 1896 162 U.S. 499 231
If a husband sees another man trying to get into his wife’s room window at night is it natural for him to investigate further [YES]; Is the husband under a duty to retreat when attacked with a knife under such circumstances [NO]; May the husband use only as much force as is necessary to repel the assault [YES]; If in an ensuing confrontation the husband shoots and kills the other man, then flees, must his flight in and of itself be seen as evidence of his guilt [NO].
Allen v. United States 1896 164 U.S. 492 241
Are words alone sufficient provocation to justify an assault [NO]; Are words alone sufficient to reduce murder to manslaughter [NO]; Can premeditation and intent to kill be determined from your actions [YES]; Although flight after a possibly criminal event may suggest guilt, does it prove it conclusively [NO].
Allison v. United States 1895 160 U.S. 203 216
Is it reasonable to believe that you’re in immediate deadly danger if a person, known to be abusive, known to carry a pistol, and who has made public threats against your life, makes a motion as if to draw down on you, even if it turns out he wasn’t armed at the time [YES]; If there is no corroborating evidence besides your testimony, may the jury decide to take your word for it and acquit based on your credibility [YES]; If you have your deer rifle with you while visiting a friend’s house and your adversary shows up, and in an ensuing confrontation you shoot him, can the judge instruct the jury that you’re guilty of murder if you armed yourself to go hunt down your adversary, when there is no evidence to support this claim [NO].
Andersen v. United States 1898 170 U.S. 481 255
If an indictment is brought charging that a defendant shot and then threw a victim’s body into the sea, so the exact cause of death cannot be known, is the indictment flawed and invalid [NO]; Do the elements of self defense have to be present for an accused person to successfully claim self defense [YES].
Beard v. United States 1895 158 U.S. 550 208
Can you stand your ground with a shotgun against an unprovoked armed attack on your property near your home [YES]; Is there a greater duty to retreat on your own property than in your house [NO].
Brown v. United States 1921 256 U.S. 335 285
Is there a duty to retreat when attacked by a man with a knife [NO]; Believing you’re in a mortal conflict, if you fire a shot in the heat of combat, which in cool reflection later may be seen as unnecessary, may you still be acquitted on grounds of self defense [YES]; Is your right of self defense roughly similar in your home, on your land, and at your work [YES]; Can detached reflection be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife [NO].
Gourko v. United States 1894 153 U.S. 183 189
If you shoot someone who has repeatedly threatened you, and the circumstances of the shooting are not found to be justifiable as self defense, does the fact that you armed yourself in response to the threat automatically make the shooting murder (as opposed to manslaughter) [NO].
Logan v. United States 1892 144 U.S. 263 180
Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee a preexisting right recognized by the Constitution, and not a right created by the Constitution [YES]; Is a prisoner in legal custody entitled to protection “while he is deprived of the ordinary means of defending and protecting himself” [YES].
Rowe v. United States 1896 164 U.S. 546 247
If a man is provoked into making a minor assault on someone, and then backs off in good faith, is his right to self defense restored if the person he assaulted attacks him with a deadly weapon? [YES]; Is he required to retreat under such circumstances [NO]; Is he under an obligation to try to only wound an attacker when fighting for his life [NO]; Can either party in a mutual combat claim self defense [NO].
Starr v. United States 1894 153 U.S. 614 196
If a law officer legally serving a warrant shoots at a suspect without identifying himself, is the suspect justified in shooting back and killing the officer in self defense [YES].
Tennessee v. Garner 1985 471 U.S. 1 428
Is the use of deadly force by police to prevent the escape of all felony suspects constitutionally unreasonable [YES]; Is the use of deadly force by a police officer permissible under the 4th Amendment, if necessary to prevent the escape of a felony suspect who threatens the officer with a weapon, or if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, if, where feasible, some warning has been given [YES].
Thompson v. United States 1894 155 U.S. 271 203
Does arming yourself after being threatened, and then traveling the only road in the area where you know your adversary may be, turn a subsequent shooting of the adversary during a confrontation into murder? [NO]; Is arming yourself for legitimate self defense premeditation [NO].
Wallace v. United States 1896 162 U.S. 466 224
Is it up to the jury to decide whether a homicide is murder, manslaughter or justifiable [YES]; Does a perfect right of self defense require blamelessness in the confrontation and an act of necessity only [YES]; Can you claim self defense if you had intentionally brought about a lethal conflict [NO]; Is it up to the jury to decide whether you armed yourself defensively or otherwise [YES]; Is it murder if you enter a quarrel without felonious or malicious intent, and then, under reasonable belief of imminent mortal danger, you kill the assailant [NO]; Does the fact that you deliberately go and arm yourself, for self defense or other innocent purpose, turn a subsequent shooting necessarily from manslaughter to murder [NO].