The Supreme Court handed down a ruling today in a case that many of us have been tracking closely because of its potential implications for Second Amendment rights in this country. In the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York, gun owners challenged a law that basically criminalized the transport of a legally owned firearm anywhere inside the city except when going directly to or from an approved shooting range. The complicating factor here was that as soon as the challenge to the law headed toward the Supreme Court, the city panicked and repealed the law, fearful of the national consequences that might follow if it was struck down.
It turns out that they didn’t have much to worry about. In a 5-3 ruling, the court dismissed the challenge, saying that the case was moot and they didn’t intend to rule on a law that’s no longer on the books. In other words, they punted. (National Review)
The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case brought by three New York City handgun owners challenging a city regulation that prohibited gun owners from transporting their firearms outside the city.
The court agreed to hear the case in December, but the city then amended the regulation to allow gun owners to bring firearms to other locations. The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in an unsigned opinion that the case was moot because the city had amended its original regulation.
Conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch wrote in their dissent that the case should not have been dismissed.
The majority opinion was unsigned, so I’m not sure at this point who didn’t wind up voting. But Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas penned a dissent. The trio argued that the case should have had a full hearing and resolution because the defendants were manipulating the court’s docket “in a way that should not be countenanced.”
Be that as it may, it didn’t look like this case would make it across the finish line from the beginning. I initially allowed myself to get my hopes up a bit back in October when the court agreed to hear the challenge. But even then I noted that the arguments in favor of dismissal were compelling and in keeping with previous actions by the Supremes.
Things began to look even more gloomy after oral arguments took place in December. Sotomayor seemed to take the lead for the rest of the four liberal justices, repeatedly asking why they should rule on a case “where the other side has thrown in the towel.” At that point, I predicted that even if we did get some sort of a ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts, at a minimum, would probably side with the four liberal justices and find a way to duck out of having to make a sweeping Second Amendment decision. Assuming he went that way, and given that three of the other conservative justices signed the dissent, we might posit a guess that Kavanaugh didn’t vote.
If we’re going to be honest, while disappointing, it’s tough to say that this was the “wrong call” for the court to make. Asking them to rule on portions of a law that no longer exist, leaving the plaintiffs with no provable damages to confirm their standing to bring the challenge, could be a dangerous precedent. It was a case of asking the Supreme Court to essentially rule on a theory. And if they accept that invitation once, what other general theories of law might they decide to start issuing summary judgments about?
The New York City government turned tail and ran when they saw this challenge moving forward. They could see the writing on the wall. Sooner or later one of these liberal cities will be challenged on a law that they try to take all the way to the end of the road. And given the current makeup of the court, when that happens, all similar restrictions on the transportation of lawfully owned firearms will probably start going up in smoke.