After an hour of oral arguments on Monday, Supreme Court watchers now suspect that Chief Justice John Roberts may provide the fifth vote necessary to dismiss the court’s first major gun rights case in nearly a decade, CNBC reports.
The case centered around a New York City gun restriction that prevented licensed gun owners from transporting their guns outside the city, such as to a second home. After the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case, the city hastily repealed the regulations, and New York state also passed a statute preventing any municipality from enacting similar rules.
The four liberal justices on the bench — Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer — appeared to believe that the case is now moot, and there is no further reason to hear it. “You’re asking us to opine on a law that’s not on the books anymore,” Sotomayor said to the petitioners in the case. Indeed, the high court generally declines to hear cases involving laws that have since been repealed.
Roberts seemed to agree that the fact that the regulations have been repealed was sufficient reason for dismissal of the matter.
‘Herculean’ efforts to dismiss case
Conservative justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch noted New York City’s strong desire to remove the case from Supreme Court jurisdiction due to fears of an unfavorable result that would have broader Second Amendment implications, and both indicated that the case should still be considered despite what Gorsuch called the city’s “herculean, late-breaking efforts to moot the case.”
Court reporter and blogger Amy Howe indicated that it will be quite some time until a decision on the fate of the case is rendered.
“Even if a majority believes that the case is moot, we may not know for some time, because a ruling on mootness would almost certainly be accompanied by an opinion (and a dissent) explaining the justices’ views,” she stated.
A formal determination in the case is not expected until June.
If not now, then soon
UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler noted that even if the court decides to dismiss this case, it won’t likely mark the end of Second Amendment challenges being brought to the high court. “There are numerous Second Amendment cases waiting in the wings and the justices are likely to take one next term,” he opined. “It is likely only a matter of time before the court makes it harder for gun safety reforms to survive Second Amendment challenges.”
In other words, it will not be long before the Supreme Court starts protecting the Second Amendment instead of trying to erode or eliminate it entirely.
“Obviously the four Justices who are hostile to the Second Amendment were for mootness,” law professor David Kopel said. He thought it was “a possibility” but “far from certain” that Roberts agreed with them, however.
Whatever happens in this case, it’s reassuring to know that the court has at least four strong conservatives to balance out a liberal wing that would like to see Second Amendment protections declared dead on arrival.