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The Supreme Court has turned ever more to analogical reasoning from history and tradition to decide significant matters of public policy. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in the Court’s 2022 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.

The Court’s crafting of a Second Amendment test that turns almost entirely on the strength of analogies—and on a topic of such intense public salience—has thrust analogical reasoning to the forefront of judicial and academic debate. While many have questioned the workability of Bruen’s focus on historical analogs, this Essay is less concerned about the pragmatics of Bruen and more focused on the ethical implications of this type of reasoning. In sum, if the Supreme Court is going to decide constitutional cases through historical analogies, it should do so in a way that is functional as law and is intelligible to the three hundred million people for whom it rules.

After outlining the role morality of reason-giving by judicial officers in our system of judicial review, this Essay provides an overview of the psychology of reasoning by analogy by both lawyers and lay persons and the role of generality, systematicity, and rules of relevance in constructing such analogies.

It then identifies three hazards confronting courts attempting to apply Bruen’s analogical method: reliance on surface rather than structural similarities; analogs that lack any stable or discernable rule of relevance; and finally, use of analogs so unmoored from public intuition and experience that they appear unreasonable or contrived.

Using Second Amendment litigation as an example, the Essay concludes by showing how the Court can articulate a system of analogical reasoning from history and tradition that avoids these pitfalls and is consonant with the role morality of judicial officers who must offer intelligible legal reasons for their decisions.

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