U.S. Supreme Court to take up high stakes gun rights case this week

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. (Flickr Commons)

WASHINGTON — A momentous clash over gun rights is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The high court is slated to hear oral arguments on Monday in a case over a New York City handgun regulation.

It marks the first major gun control dispute to reach the Supreme Court since its ideological shift with the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and legal observers are billing it as the biggest Second Amendment case to come before the high court in years. 

“[W]hen it comes to Second Amendment doctrine and methodology, the stakes are higher than they’ve been in a decade,” Duke Law School Professor Joseph Blocher wrote on the legal website Scotusblog. 

At the heart of the case: a New York City regulation banning the transport of  licensed, locked, and unloaded handguns to a home or shooting range outside city limits. (The city has since changed its regulations to remove the travel restrictions, but the legal dispute continues.)

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Critics of the regulation are billing the case as a vehicle to broadly target local gun restrictions. 

New York City’s rule is “exemplary of a broader push by local governments to restrict Second Amendment rights,” wrote the lawyers representing gun owners challenging the regulation. The case, they said, is an “ideal vehicle for halting the spread of irrational and draconian restrictions on Second Amendment rights.” 

The Trump administration and several states are backing the petitioners challenging New York City’s rule. The handgun transport ban “infringes the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second and Fourteenth Amendments,” the Justice Department said in a brief to the Supreme Court. 

States backing the gun owners in the case are Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. 

New York’s City’s rule “unreasonably restricts its residents,” lawyers representing those states said in a brief to the court. Current laws throughout the country create a “tattered patchwork quilt of protection” that makes it “quite impossible” for average citizens to know the rules surrounding firearm possessions when they travel. 

Other states, lawmakers and gun safety advocates, meanwhile, are concerned that a broad ruling from the court could hinder state and local efforts to limit gun violence. 

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“Petitioners’ arguments in this case would dramatically curtail the flexibility of States to respond to the problem of firearm violence,” says a brief submitted by 12 states and Washington, D.C. The states that signed on were New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. 

In August, 139 members of the U.S. House of Representatives also submitted a brief urging the court to uphold New York City’s policy and to reject “attempts to ratchet up the scrutiny courts apply to gun safety regulations.” 

The lawmakers “know first-hand the pain that gun violence has inflicted upon their communities back home and throughout our nation,” they wrote, citing the mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

That brief was joined by Pennsylvania U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District; Mike Doyle, D-18th District; Dwight Evans, D-3rd District; Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, and Susan Wild, D-7th District. 

Superfund case

Also on tap for the Supreme Court this week is a case over states’ roles in demanding cleanup of hazardous waste sites. 

The case surrounds a Superfund site at a smelter in Montana, but the outcome could also have broad implications for cleanups in other states. 

A company that has been working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s direction to address the contamination at the Montana smelter is challenging a lower court decision that allowed private landowners to seek additional cleanup requirements under state law. The state remedies, the company warned the court, could require companies to pay for efforts directly at odds with the EPA’s cleanup plans. 

Several states have urged the high court to respect their authority to respond to environmental problems within their borders. 

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Congress deliberately declined to enact provisions in the Superfund law “that would have prevented States from imposing additional liability and requirements on entities that release hazardous substances,” the states wrote in a brief. 

The states that signed on to that brief were Virginia, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. 

Oral arguments in the Superfund case are scheduled for Tuesday.