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A Constitutional Right of Self-Defense

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On May 12, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (an intermediate appellate court, see below) decided a case on a constitutional right of self-defense.  The case of Madziva v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, No. 1215 C.D. 2013, arose in the unusual context of a public employee's challenge to his discharge.

Madziva was a property manager for a public housing agency.  One day, a resident's unhappiness with the handling of her transfer request resulted in a minor scuffle in which the resident was the aggressor, and Madziva used a minimal amount of force to extricate himself.  The agency's personnel manual had a flat prohibition on fighting and said self-defense was no excuse.  The Pennsylvania Constitution provides in Article I, Section 1 (emphasis added):

All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.

The conflict between the manual and the Constitution resulted in a firing, as it should have.  Unfortunately, instead of firing the bonehead who wrote the manual, they fired the manager who used reasonable force to defend himself from an assault.
The Court of Common Pleas (the trial court) upheld the firing in an odd decision relying on a case of a firing by a private employer and the fact that the Second Amendment, to the extent it incorporates a right of self-defense, is limited to bearing arms for that purpose, and no arms are involved in this case.

Madziva appealed, and the Commonwealth Court reversed. The appellate court correctly distinguished the private v. public employment situations and recognized this is not a Second Amendment case.  Somewhat surprisingly, the court did not emphasize that the Pennsylvania Constitution expressly protects "defending" whereas the U.S. Constitution does not.  Some inconvenient language in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision probably ought to be reexamined in this context.

The plaintiff sufficiently pleaded a case for declaratory relief that the agency's policy of disciplining employees for exercise of their constitutional right to self-defense is unconstitutional, and the trial court's dismissal of that action before trial was error.  There are procedural and remedial questions in the case, though, so Mr. Madziva may or may not get his job back or money damages.

The case is "unreported," which strikes me as odd.  The principle seems to me to be important enough to warrant publication.

In Pennsylvania's unusual appellate court structure, explained here, the Commonwealth Court "is one of Pennsylvania's two statewide intermediate appellate courts. The Commonwealth Court is primarily responsible for matters involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies."  Discretionary review is available in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  Personally, I'd like to see it go up.  A published decision of a state supreme court would be helpful.  Also, a right of self-defense under a state constitution expressly providing one ought not depend on whether or to what extent the U.S. Supreme Court finds a right to self-defense between the lines of a different document with no express provision.

Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the pointer.

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