Nonincorporation: The Bill of Rights after McDonald v. Chicago

46 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2012 Last revised: 13 Mar 2013

See all articles by Suja A. Thomas

Suja A. Thomas

University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: July 16, 2012


Very few rights in the Bill of Rights have not been incorporated against the states. In McDonald v. Chicago, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment right to bear arms, which the Court previously had decided did not apply against states, was incorporated. This decision left only three, what this Article terms, “nonincorporated” rights — the Fifth Amendment grand jury right, the Sixth Amendment criminal jury unanimity requirement, and the Seventh Amendment civil jury trial right — rights that the Court previously decided do not apply against the states that remain not incorporated. After the decision to incorporate the right to bear arms, an important unaddressed question with far-reaching implications is whether nonincorporation is defensible under the Court’s jurisprudence. Scholars to date have viewed the Bill of Rights exclusively through theories of incorporation, including the theory of selective incorporation under which incorporation occurs if a fundamental right exists. This Article is the first to view incorporation from the perspective of a theory of nonincorporation. This theory could be simply the opposite of selective incorporation — that a right is not fundamental — or, it could be, that the Court has not incorporated rights for some other reason. This Article sets forth possible theories of nonincorporation, both prior to and after McDonald, and exploring their viability, concludes that no nonincorporation theory is defensible under the Court’s jurisprudence. The resulting incorporation of the nonincorporated rights would change the administration of justice in the states and also would make the Court’s theory of selective incorporation more justifiable.

Suggested Citation

Thomas, Suja A., Nonincorporation: The Bill of Rights after McDonald v. Chicago (July 16, 2012). Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 88, 2012, Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 13-04, Available at SSRN: or

Suja A. Thomas (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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