By: Ashleigh Meyer
The City of New York has done all it could to prevent a Second Amendment case from reaching the Supreme Court. It’s unclear, however, whether the Republican-dominated court will hear New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. City of New York, the outcome of which could have a large-scale impact on the future of gun laws in the United States.
The United States has been in the trenches of a civil war over Second Amendment rights for a very long time. The City of New York, a Democratic stronghold, has taken drastic measures to limit the Second Amendment for its citizens. Most recently, the city enacted a regulation that restricted gun owners with a “premises license” from transporting weapons to anyplace not included on the list of seven approved shooting ranges in the city, even if the weapons were locked and unloaded. In effect, citizens couldn’t bring a gun to their second home, or the home of a relative, couldn’t travel to another city, or participate in state competitions that were not held at one of those seven locations.
The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association challenged the regulation on the grounds that it unjustly restricted Second Amendment rights – rights that the Supreme Court has upheld twice in the last decade. In 2008, in a case known as District of Columbia v. Heller, a District of Columbia resident sued the district from banning handguns in the home.
The Court ruled that at the federal level, “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Again in 2010, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, a similar ruling was handed down, reiterating the Heller decision and extending it to state and local governments.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the NY State Rifle & Pistol Association’s case back in January. When NYC got wind that there would be a hearing, they quickly backpedaled, fearing a broad pro-Second Amendment ruling that would sweep the nation. They erased the restrictive statute and went so far as to enact a law that allegedly prevents a similar restriction from ever being put in place again.
Is It A Moot Point?
If the Court follows through with the New York City hearing, it will be the first Second Amendment case heard in almost a decade, and the decision will inevitably be a landmark in Second Amendment rights and interpretations. The hearing is set for December, but there has been deliberation as to whether the case is “moot,” or no longer relevant. Obviously, the City of New York repealed the restriction in question precisely in the hopes that it would be deemed moot, and the Court would not take the case.
Article III of the Constitution can be interpreted to limit federal courts to only hearing actual “live” controversies. The doctrine of “mootness” is one of four Justiciability Doctrines that can prevent plaintiffs from maintaining a legal claim, should the doctrine apply. The Supreme Court, between now and December, will be working to determine if the mootness doctrine applies.
There are two types of mootness: Article III Mootness and Prudential Mootness. Article III Mootness simply means that if the case or cause no longer exists, even if it should cease to exist after the lawsuit has been filed, the case is moot, because the controversy has been resolved. Prudential Mootness is a bit more conceptual and relates to the Court’s discretion. Prudential mootness usually applies if the defendant can demonstrate that the wrong will not be repeated, which is no easy task. Both circumstances could be at play here.
Pro-Second Amendment challengers of the New York City regulation argue that, even though the law has been repealed, the new and revised legislation is still problematic in nature, and that the highest court in the land should not give in or advocate for political manipulation. In a brief compiled by Gun Owners of America, it is argued that New York City citizens are by no means granted the full scope of Second Amendment rights confirmed under Heller and that the “(Supreme) Court’s disturbing trend of denying petitions in Second Amendment decisions has left the lower federal courts free to disregard this Court’s holdings in Heller and McDonald, leaving the American public at the mercy of states, cities, and local governments who have grown increasingly bold in their attacks on a right that — according to the Second Amendment text — shall not be infringed.”
Jordan Stein of GOA, in an interview with Gunpowder Magazine, expressed her belief that the Court should definitely continue as planned, and hear the case in December, because, “There are arguments being made that have broader applications than the facts of the case,” and “judges shouldn’t try to ‘balance’ gun rights with an alleged public safety, but rule by the ‘text, tradition and history’ of the Second Amendment, as described in Heller.”
Likewise, James Bardwell of the National Association of Gun Rights, told Gunpowder, “In general, the Court will still agree to review a decision, even if the law has been repealed, when the issue is important and is likely to come up again. I think that is certainly true here.”
Bardwell also pointed out that NYC’s transparent political manipulation is evident by the fact that a piece of legislation that was once deemed absolutely critical to public safety suddenly became “completely disposable” when it became challenged.
Should the Court move forward with the case, Second Amendment interpretations stand to be dramatically impacted, and the scope of the decision could be broad and far-reaching. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment after the retirement of Anthony Kennedy shifted the Court to the right, and the freshman lawmaker has yet to experience a real term in the Supreme Court. His first term was just that; his first term. He voted moderately and dealt with minor cases. This term will likely do more to reveal his standing on controversial issues, as the Court is set to take on abortion, transgender rights, and immigration statues in addition to this Second Amendment case.
The colossal momentum of the case, however, will be tempered by emotions and considerations relating to the recent uptick in mass shootings, gun law challenges, and public discourse. The Court may decide not to hear the case, simply to avoid the sociopolitical ramifications of a decision.
Essentially, in alignment with Prudential Mootness as mentioned earlier, it may be in the Court’s best interest to sit this one out. There will be pressure on the Republican-dominated courtroom to prove that it is not subject to political tactics, but rather is an institution of raw justice.
Ashleigh Meyer is a professional writer, and conservative political analyst from Virginia.