When I wrote about the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York a couple of months ago, I expressed concerns that the Supreme Court could still punt on this one even though they agreed to hear oral arguments. Yesterday the justices listened, but the comments that were made didn’t leave court observers with the feeling that they were going to move forward. While nothing is certain yet and we likely won’t know the official decision for a while, it’s sounding more and more as if at least some of the justices plan on ditching this case as no longer being relevant. (NBC News)
The Supreme Court seemed unlikely Monday to be heading for a major ruling on Second Amendment rights after hearing courtroom arguments in a dispute over a New York City gun restriction — a law no longer on the books.
Because New York repealed the law after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the city argued that the case should be dismissed as moot because there’s nothing left to fight over. Based on the comments by the justices Monday, it did not seem that a majority was willing to keep the case alive and rule on the broader gun rights issue…
“What’s left of this case?” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked.
Associate Justice Sotomayor is also quoted and she sounded dismissive of taking on the case as well. “You’re asking us to take a case in which the other side has thrown in the towel and opine on a law that’s not on the books anymore,” she said.
Not all of the justices sounded as certain. Gorsuch reportedly brought up another aspect of the package of gun control laws that’s still on the books, saying that people with a properly stored firearm in their car could be prosecuted if they stopped somewhere for gas or coffee. But the lawyer for New York City disagreed, saying nobody would be prosecuted for such a thing. Some gun rights advocates had been hoping that Brett Kavanaugh would come out swinging to keep the case alive, but he said nothing during the proceedings.
That doesn’t mean that the conservative majority on the court couldn’t still turn around and decide to move forward with it, but it seems unlikely. While only the liberal justices seem to have brought it up, they have a well-founded point in questioning the need to proceed. The law being challenged is no longer on the books. The plaintiffs need to be able to show some sort of harm or damages to bring the challenge, and that doesn’t seem possible at this point. For the court to act, it would be more in the form of an advisory judgment, since there is no law to actually strike down.
I’m ready to be proven wrong, but I would predict that at least Chief Justice Roberts will side with the liberals on this one and declare the case moot. Possibly a couple of others as well.