WSJ Editorial Board Gets It Right

The Wall Street Journal published a scathing editorial today on the Supreme Court deciding to moot NYSRPA v City of New York. I think they got it right. For a co-equal branch of government to cower before the threats of senators like Sheldon Whitehouse should be unthinkable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

What an enormous abdication. The Supreme Court ducked its first Second Amendment case in a decade on Monday, and the only plausible explanation is that Chief Justice John Roberts wanted to avoid becoming a target of vengeful Senate Democrats.

The editorial then takes note of Justice Alito’s dissent which was joined by Justice Gorsuch in whole and by Justice Thomas in part.

The majority buckled and ignored previous rulings to do it. As Justice Alito writes, the Court’s precedents hold that “a case ‘becomes moot only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.’” Plaintiffs want to transport their firearms without worrying about getting arrested if they stop somewhere along the way. The city even admitted in oral arguments that it’s unclear whether this is allowed. Justice Alito says this and more make the rule’s violation of the Second Amendment “not a close call.”

On the mootness point, Justice Alito also pokes his colleagues with this hypothetical: “A State enacts a law providing that any woman wishing to obtain an abortion must submit certification from five doctors that the procedure is medically necessary. After a woman sues, claiming that any requirement of physician certification is unconstitutional, the State replaces its old law with a new one requiring certification by three physicians. Would the court be required to dismiss the woman’s suit?” You know the answer.

Looking at Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence, the editorial board found it “curious”.

Justice Kavanaugh’s role here is curious because, while he joined the majority on mootness, he wrote a concurrence agreeing with the dissent on the Second Amendment merits. This looks to us as if he is trying to protect the Chief Justice from being the fifth vote, and the sole “conservative,” providing a liberal victory while making clear he’s still a solid vote himself for gun rights. The phrase for this is too clever by half.

They note that the Supreme Court has been timid on the Second Amendment and is treating it as a second class right. Moreover, if shrill threats from the Whitehouses of the world and the media can sway the Court, then we can expect it to escalate on this and other issues.

They conclude on the role of Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Chief Justice is carving out a reputation as a highly political Justice whose views on the law can be coerced with threats to the Court’s “independence.” The danger for the Court is that, in bending to these threats, the Chief is compromising the very independence he claims to want to protect.

I wish Kavanaugh was more like his fellow Georgetown Prep classmate Justice Gorsuch. I said back when Kavanaugh was selected that he wasn’t my first choice. I much preferred Tom Hardiman and Raymond Kethledge. Both had better backgrounds on the Second Amendment. Moreover, neither were Ivy League law grads which I found to be a big plus.

My only hope is that the Court does take one or more of the Second Amendment cases that are still out there awaiting cert. Ideally, they would take one of the carry cases, Mance v. Barr, and Pena v. Horan. That threesome with the correct decision would allow carry outside the home, poke holes in GCA68, and do away with the California handgun roster.

Supreme Court Punts On NYSRPA V. City Of NY

The US Supreme Court issued its ruling on New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York today. The bottom line is that they punted in a 6-3 decision finding the case moot.

More as I read the opinion and the dissents.

I know we wished for more but this, as much as I hate it, was not unexpected after the City of New York changed its regulations.

UPDATE: From Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Many were anticipating a big Second Amendment ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York, but it was not to be. The New York legislature revised the laws in question while the litigation was pending, rendering moot the precise question before the Court. Accordingly, in a brief Per Curiam opinion the Court sent the case back down to the lower court for consideration of the relevant Second Amendment claims against the rules currently in force. Justice Kavanaugh wrote a brief concurrence. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Gorsuch and Thomas, dissented.

For what it’s worth, I think the Court got this one right: The case as argued is moot. At the same time, the dissenters are correct that additional guidance to lower courts (and states) on the permissibility of gun restrictions is long overdue. In this regard, I think Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence got things right: “petitioners’ claim for injunctive relief against New York City’s old rule is moot and that petitioners’ new claims should be addressed as appropriate in the first instance by the Court of Appeals and the District Court on remand.” In addition, there is ample cause for concern that “some federal and state courts may not be properly applying Heller and McDonald.” Accordingly, Kavanaugh wrote: “The Court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases with petitions for certiorari now pending before the Court.”

Gorsuch – “But waiting should not be mistaken for lack of concern. “

The Supreme Court in today’s order list has denied certiorari in Guedes et al v. BATFE. Guedes and the Firearms Policy Foundation had appealed the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That decision denied an injunction in the case.

Justice Neil Gorsuch agreed with the decision to deny certiorari in the case given it had not been fully briefed and argued on the merits. He did think the Court of Appeals made an error in relying on Chevron deference in this case because it involves a criminal penalty. He also noted that both the plaintiffs and the government had expressly argued that any decision should not rely on Chevron deference.

Gorsuch referred to the BATFE’s actions on reclassifying bump stocks as “bureaucratic pirouetting”.

Chevron’s application in this case may be doubtful for other reasons too. The agency used to tell everyone that bump stocks don’t qualify as “machineguns.” Now it says the opposite. The law hasn’t changed, only an agency’s interpretation of it. And these days it sometimes seems agencies change their statutory interpretations almost as often as elections change administrations. How, in all this, can ordinary citizens be expected to keep up—required not only to conform their conduct to the fairest reading of the law they might expect from a neutral judge, but forced to guess whether the statute will be declared ambiguous; to guess again whether the agency’s initial interpretation of the law will be declared “reasonable”; and to guess again whether a later and opposing agency interpretation will also be held “reasonable”? And why should courts, charged with the independent and neutral interpretation of the laws Congress has enacted, defer to such bureaucratic pirouetting?

If I had to hazard a guess, when this or one of the sister cases involving the reinterpretation of the NFA to ban bump stocks does come before the Supreme Court fully briefed on the merits, Gorsuch will most definitely be in favor of hearing the case. Moreover, I would go further and say he would not find in favor of BATFE.

NYSRPA Starts The Day At SCOTUS

The oral argument in the NY State Rifle and Pistol Association versus City of New York is the top of the calendar today for the Supreme Court. This marks the first Second Amendment case to reach this stage since 2010’s McDonald v. Chicago.

The oral arguments are being recorded. The Supreme Court also will make transcripts available. Both will be available on Friday after the Court’s regular conference.

For a more contemporaneous report on the proceedings without the mainstream media slant, Tom Gresham of Gun Talk was given media credentials to cover the case and will be posting on Twitter. His Twitter feed is found here. Alternatively, his Twitter handle is @guntalk. He also will be doing a Facebook livestream before and after the session. You can find it here.

All I can say regarding the case is to keep your fingers crossed. The US government has taken the position that the case is not moot. Paul Clement who will be arguing on behalf of the NYSRPA agrees in his response.

Remington Denied Cert (Updated)

The US Supreme Court has denied a writ of certiorari to Remington in their appeal of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling. That ruling allowed the lawsuit by some of the families of the Newtown murders against Remington to go forward. The Connecticut Supreme Court had said Remington would not be protected by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The denial was in the Order List released this morning.

As I mentioned earlier, the anti-PLCAA forces had brought out the big legal guns with Obama’s former Solicitor General. His argument must have swayed enough justices that they voted against taking the case.

You can read more about the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling in the case here.

This means that the lawsuit against Remington will go to trial in Connecticut Superior Court and that the plaintiffs can go on a fishing expedition through Remington’s records.

To be blunt, this denial of cert sucks. It turns on its head the supremacy of Federal law and makes a mockery of a law passed by Congress to prevent exactly what the plaintiffs are seeking to do.

UPDATE: Dave Hardy, 2A scholar and attorney, gives his take on the SCOTUS denial of cert in the case. He still thinks the plaintiffs have a long way to go before they win.

Big point: the trial court dismissed the suit for “failure to state a claim.” This is the first stage at which a suit can be reviewed. Dismissal is only proper if it is based on the pleading, bare written allegations. The CT Supremes said only that it couldn’t be, at this stage. Plaintiff still have to prove their allegations (after discovery, they can be challenged by a motion for summary judgement, and if that’s denied, fought at trial). The CT Supremes even allowed that plaintiff may have to surmount “herculean” barriers to win.

I’ll defer to Dave given his long experience as an attorney.

#ReleaseTheList

The ultra-progressive group Demand Justice released a list of 32 potential nominees for the Supreme Court. They want Democrat presidential candidates to adopt this list or to release one of their own. This is what then-candidate Donald J. Trump did in 2016 to good effect.

I agree. Release the list! If the list(s) adopted by any of the Democrat candidates is anything like the Demand Justice list, it will be full of radicals, with little judicial experience, chosen to appease constituent groups.

Professor Josh Blackman provides a convenient grouping on The Volokh Conspiracy.

Academics: Michelle Alexander (Union Theological Seminary),  James Forman, Jr. (Yale), Pamela Karlan (Stanford), M. Elizabeth Magill (Virginia), Melissa Murray (NYU), Bryan Stevenson (NYU), Zephyr Teachout (Fordham), Timothy Wu (Columbia),


Progressive Litigators: Brigitte Amiri (ACLU), Nicole Berner (GC SEIU), Deepak Gupta (Gupta Wessler), Dale Ho (ACLU), Sherrilyn Ifill (NAACP LDF), Shannon Minter (National Center for Lesbian Rights), Nina Perales (MALDEF), Thomas A. Saenz (MALDEF), Cecillia Wang (ACLU),


Current/Former Government Officers: Xavier Becerra (California AG), Sharon Block (one of the three NLRB appointments at issue in Noel Canning), Vanita Gupta (Former Obama DOJ), Lawrence Krasner (Philadelphia DA), Catharine Lhamon (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights), Katie Porter (House of Representatives), Jenny Yang (Former EEOC Chair)


Federal Judges: Richard F. Boulware (D. Nev.), Jane Kelly (8th Circuit), Cornelia Pillard (D.C. Circuit), Carlton Reeves (S.D. Miss.)


State Judges: Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar (California Supreme Court), Anita Earls (North Carolina Supreme Court), Leondra Kruger (California Supreme Court), Goodwin Liu (California Supreme Court)

Let’s look at the sitting judges first. All of the Federal judges were appointed by President Barack Obama. They have between five and nine years of experience and only one of them is on a Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Update On NYSRPA V. City Of New York

The Supreme Court released new orders relating to oral arguments in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York.

The motion of the Solicitor General for leave to participate in oral argument as amicus curiae and for divided argument is granted. The motion of Neal Goldfarb for leave to participate in oral argument as amicus curiae and for divided argument is denied.

The Supreme Court usually approves the request of the Solicitor General to participate in oral arguments as amicus curiae and will grant his or her request for divided argument.

As to Mr. Goldfarb, he is the only one of those submitting amicus briefs who requested to participate in the oral argument. From what I can tell, he is something of a gadfly who wants to apply linguistics to the legal interpretation. His brief insists that the Court was wrong in its interpretation of language in DC v. Heller.

NYSRPA v City Of New York Lives On (Updated)

The Supreme Court opened its October term today and released a number of orders. Included in this was an order denying New York City’s suggestion of mootness in NYSRPA v. City of New York

18-280
NY STATE RIFLE & PISTOL, ET AL. V. NEW YORK, NY, ET AL.


The Respondents’ Suggestion of Mootness is denied. The question of mootness will be subject to further consideration at
oral argument, and the parties should be prepared to discuss it.

This is good news for those of us wanting the case to be decided.

UPDATE

I asked the Law Department of the City of New York if they had any comment on the denial of the Suggestion of Mootness. Here is what I received from their press secretary.

We look forward to addressing the issues at the December oral argument.

Nick Paolucci
Press Secretary

I guess that is as close to saying “No Comment” as you can get without actually saying it.

How Not To Win Friends And Influence Justices

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) considers himself worthy of authoring an amicus brief for a case before the Supreme Court. He should think again. Despite a long legal career before being elected to the Senate which culminated with him serving as both the Attorney General of Rhode Island for one term and before that as the Clinton-appointed US Attorney for Rhode Island, his brief in NY State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York is a polemic and not an argument.

Moreover, as the son and grandson of diplomats, you would have thought somewhere along the line it would have rubbed off on him how to be diplomatic towards those that matter. Daddy served as deputy ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam followed up as the ambassador to Laos and then Thailand. Granddad was ambassador to Guatemala and Colombia and served earlier on the commission that wrote the Treaty of Versailles.

Whitehouse was joined in this polemic, I mean amicus brief, by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who are all lawyers by training. They begin the brief arguing that the NYSRPA, the petitioners, are asking the Court to be their allies in ” a “project”
to expand the Second Amendment and thwart gun-safety (sic) regulations.” They continue that it is no wonder polls show the Supreme Court is “motivated mainly by politics.” It goes downhill from here.

They then argue that it was the National Rifle Association, the Federalist Society, and other conservative groups fought to make sure that Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would be on the Court to “break the tie” in favor of the Second Amendment. It goes on to say about the Federalist Society:

The Society counts over eighty-six percent of
Trump administration nominees to the circuit courts
of appeal and to this Court as active members. It is
not yet clear who the powerful funders are behind
Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society judicial
selection effort, nor what took place as the Federalist
Society was “insourced” into the Trump
administration’s judicial selection process.5 But
massive political spending and secrecy are rarely a
salubrious combination.

In other words, these fine senators are pissed off that President Trump has nominated active members of an organization dedicated to an interpretation of the Constitution that preserves the original meaning. They would much prefer those of the Living Constitution stripe.

This brief then goes on to attack the amicus briefs in favor of the NY State Rifle and Pistol Association implying that they are stooges of the NRA. Eight of the amici are affiliated with the NRA. However, most of those are from only one amicus brief – that of the National Sheriffs Association. Then, heaven forbid, a number of amici are 503(c)(4) social welfare organization who are not required to disclose their donors. As the secretary of the Maryland Democratic Party might note, this makes them harder to dox. Of course much of this is ludicrous. Accusing groups like the Pink Pistols and GOA of being stooges of the NRA is laughable.

Whitehouse ends Section I of the brief with this.

Out in the real world, Americans are murdered
each day with firearms in classrooms or movie
theaters or churches or city streets, and a generation
of preschoolers is being trained in active-shooter
survival drills. In the cloistered confines of this
Court, and notwithstanding the public imperatives of
these massacres, the NRA and its allies brashly
presume, in word and deed, that they have a friendly
audience for their “project.”

You might think Whitehouse might now try to curry favor with the justices in Section II and you’d be wrong. After a few paragraphs saying how the Court shouldn’t be answering moot questions and legislating from the bench, he then accuses the Court’s majority of being the tools of big business, the GOP, and fat cats.

Recent patterns raise legitimate questions about
whether these limits remain. From October Term
2005 through October Term 2017, this Court issued
78 5-4 (or 5-3) opinions in which justices appointed by
Republican presidents provided all five votes in the
majority. In 73 of these 5-4 decisions, the cases
concerned interests important to the big funders,
corporate influencers, and political base of the
Republican Party. And in each of these 73 cases,
those partisan interests prevailed.

Then he accuses the petitioners of engaging in strategic “faux litigation”. What he is speaking of is strategic civil rights litigation with carefully chosen plaintiffs and with the purpose of building precedent. The interesting historical aspect of this is that the model for this strategic litigation was none other than the NAACP Legal Defense Fund run at the time by future Justice Thurgood Marshall.

For example, we have seen flocks of
“freedom-based public interest law” organizations
that exist only to change public policy through
litigation, and which often do not disclose their
funders. We have seen behavioral signals, like
litigants who rush to lose cases in lower courts “as
quickly as practicable and without argument, so that
[they] can expeditiously take their claims to the
Supreme Court” (ordinarily, in litigation, litigants
seek to win).
Almost invariably, and as we have seen in this case, such plaintiffs are accompanied by
throngs of professional amici, whose common funding
sources and connections to the organizations behind
the supposed party-in-interest are obscured by
ineffective disclosure rules.

Instead of being flattered, Whitehouse seems to say how dare these dirty, low down conservatives imitate the tactics and strategies of the Left!

He then ends the brief with a threat.

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.” Particularly on the urgent
issue of gun control, a nation desperately needs it to
heal.

Whitehouse is no FDR but he thinks his threat of packing the Court is going to sway it. His demeaning attitude should irritate even the most ardent liberals on the Court. Whether this case is ultimately dismissed as moot or not, there will be more cases that have even more impact for Second Amendment rights that are now or soon will be in the pipeline.

UPDATE: I’m not the only one who found Whitehouse’s brief to be a polemic and not a real argument. Prof. William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection covered it as well. Note the comments. I agree with the person who said ” The Court should strike the brief without a right to refile an amended brief, and impose sanctions.”

It Was A Big Day For Amicus Briefs

Monday and Tuesday were big days for amicus briefs in NY State Rifle & Pistol Association et al. v. City of New York. By my count, there were 25 briefs submitted pro and con but mostly in favor of NYSRPA. Obviously, when you have 25 briefs that is a lot of reading. I haven’t even begun to start.

In Favor of New York City

In Favor of Neither Petititioner

In Favor of NY State Rifle and Pistol Association

The counsels of record for the petititioners (NYSRPA) read like a who’s who of Second Amendment attorneys. You have Alan Gura, Stephen Halbrook, Dave Kopel, Don Kilmer, Stephen Stamboulieh, David Jensen, Dan Schmutter, Dave Hardy, and the list goes on. If you have been following Second Amendment law for the last 10-15 years you would have come across them one way or another.