We recently looked at the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York. That’s the one where the plaintiffs have sued the city over a recently enacted law making it nearly impossible to legally transport a properly registered firearm in the city unless going to or from an approved shooting range. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, but now the City has voluntarily dropped the transportation restrictions and is asking SCOTUS to dismiss the appeal since there’s no longer a need for it in their opinion. (The plaintiffs need to learn to take yes for an answer.)
The court has asked both sides to submit briefs on this request and will consider them one week before the start of the next session. Now a new voice has weighed in on the subject. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) has filed his own brief with the court. But he’s doing much more than offering a friendly opinion on the merits. He’s warning the Supreme Court that they need to drop the case because if they don’t and they wind up issuing a ruling favorable to the plaintiffs and dismantling more of New York City’s gun laws, that will trigger an effort to pack the courts. (Daily Caller)
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island filed a legal brief before the Supreme Court in a challenge to New York City’s gun transportation regulations, advancing a broad indictment of the Roberts Court itself as he urged the justices to turn away the NRA-backed case.
The brief, which follows back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, accuses the justices of delivering partisan decisions for monied Republican interests while warning of lasting damage to the Supreme Court’s legitimacy.
“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it. Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics,’” Whitehouse wrote, alluding to court-packing measures that have gained traction in progressive circles. “Particularly on the urgent issue of gun control, a nation desperately needs it to heal.”
I should first repeat for the umpteenth time that I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television. But does it strike anyone else rather odd that this legal brief doesn’t actually have much to do with the merits of the case? And if you’re trying to curry the court’s favor and get them to see things your way, do you usually open up your missive by insulting the justices?
Whitehouse comes out of the gate implying that the Supreme Court is currently sick or “not well,” as he put it. He follows up the insult with a threat, saying that America would need to “restructure” the court in order to heal it. Perhaps most laughable of all is the way he frames the threat as a need to “reduce the influence of politics.” What he’s actually threatening to do is the most politically driven and drastic action imaginable in this scenario. He might as well have said, decide the case the way liberals and Democrats want or we’ll come back and stack a bunch of blatantly liberal justices on your bench to overrule you.
As to the threatened court-packing scheme, Whitehouse’s mouth might be writing checks that his caucus can’t cash. Even if they manage to take back the Oval Office next year (still not a sure bet by any means), it’s going to take one heck of a lot of support to force through a plan to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court. And even if they manage it, the GOP will just do the same thing back to them the next time they are in power until we eventually have more justices than senators. (Won’t that be lovely?)
Dick Durbin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal, and Mazie Hirono all signed on to the letter that Whitehouse submitted, so we’ve got some presidential primary action going on here as well. It would be interesting to see if this backfires on Whitehouse entirely. As I mentioned in the previous article (linked above), we’ve seen how often this Supreme Court has taken every opportunity presented to dodge divisive, complex cases, particularly when it comes to Second Amendment issues. This motion by the defendants offers them the perfect opportunity to do that once again. But after getting a nasty poison pen letter like this from Whitehouse, I wonder if the conservatives on the court will stiffen their backs and insist on hearing the appeal anyway.