Supreme Court Punts on D.C. Gun Ban
Linda Greenhouse provides background:
Both sides in a closely watched legal battle over the District of Columbia’s strict gun-control law are urging the Supreme Court to hear the case. If the justices agree — a step they may announce as early as Tuesday — the Roberts court is likely to find itself back on the front lines of the culture wars with an intensity unmatched even by the cases on abortion and race that defined the court’s last term.
The question is whether the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects an individual right to “keep and bear arms.” If the answer is yes, as the federal appeals court held in March, the justices must then decide what such an interpretation means for a statute that bars all possession of handguns and that requires any other guns in the home to be disassembled or secured by trigger locks.
The Supreme Court has never answered the Second Amendment question directly, and it has been nearly 70 years since the court even approached it obliquely. A decision in 1939, United States v. Miller, held that a sawed-off shotgun was not one of the “arms” to which the Second Amendment referred in its single, densely written, and oddly punctuated sentence: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Lyle Denniston reports on the Court’s action this morning:
The Supreme Court on Tuesday announced no action on a new case testing the meaning of the Second Amendment — an issue the Court has not considered in 68 years. The Orders List contained no mention of either the District of Columbia’s appeal (07-290) or a cross-petition by challengers to the city’s flat ban on private possession of handguns (07-335). The next date for possible action on these cases is likely to be Nov. 26, following a pre-Thanksgiving Conference of the Justices set for Tuesday, Nov. 20.
The Court, of course, does not explain inaction. But among the possible reasons for delaying the case are these: one or more Justices simply asked for more time to consider the two cases; the Court may be rewriting the question or questions it will be willing to review — especially in view of the disagreement between the two sides on what should be at issue; the Court may have voted initially to deny review of one or both cases and one or more Justices are writing a dissent from the denial. The appeal in 07-290 (District of Columbia v. Heller) raises the key issue about the Second Amendment’s meaning — that is, whether it guarantees an individual right to have a gun for private use, at least in one’s home — and the appeal in 07-335 (Parker v. District of Columbia) poses a question about who may bring lawsuits to challenge laws before they are actively enforced. Together, the cases thus present a somewhat complex mix for the Court, and it perhaps was not much of a surprise that no order issued on Tuesday. At no point is there likely to be an answer to what happened to bring about the delay. Both cases are expected to be re-listed for the Nov. 20 Conference.
It’s conceivable, then, that the Court will still decide to take action on the case this term. Practically speaking, though, doing nothing is a victory for friends of the 2nd Amendment, since it lets stand the appellate decision. If the Court were to take the case and uphold the ruling and its broad reasoning, however, it would be have nation-wide effect whereas the current ruling applies only to the District.