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Court avoids gun rights dispute (FINAL UPDATE)

UPDATED 3:09 pm to add actions the Court took Monday in other cases.

The Supreme Court, following a pattern that is now quite well established, chose again on Monday to remain on the sidelines as the national debate over gun ownership heats up in the political realm.   Without comment, the Justices denied review of the latest attempt to test whether the Second Amendment right to have a gun extends beyond the home.

The denial of review in Kachalsky v. Cacace (docket 12-845) was the latest in a series of denials of attempts to get the Justices to explore the reach of the Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, recognizing a Second Amendment right to have a gun for personal self-defense.  That decision, though, was limited to a right to have a gun ready to shoot inside one’s own home.

In the Heller decision, the Court emphasized that the personal right it was recognizing for the first time was not an “absolute” right, and that gun ownership could be subjected to “reasonable” regulations.   It provided some examples, such as having a gun in a sensitive public place, but that list was not intended to be complete.   That has left it to Congress and to state legislatures to decide whether they want to impose new forms of gun control.

Because the Court does not explain orders denying review, there is no way to know why the Justices would again choose not to get involved in a controversy that, in essence, the Heller decision itself has deepened.   One of the most common reasons for the Justices to grant review is the existence of a split among lower courts on a significant constitutional issue.   There is now such a clear split among federal appeals courts on whether constitutional gun rights extend beyond the home, and yet that was not sufficient to draw the Court back into the center of the controversy in the new case from New York.  The new case sought to test the constitutionality of limiting a citizen’s right to a license to carry a concealed gun in public to those who can show they have a “proper cause” for their belief that they need a gun for self-defense away from home.

Strong supporters of gun rights have argued that the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller was sweeping in scope, while supporters of gun control have argued that the decision leaves legislators with wide leeway to impose new restrictions.  There will be no final resolution of that dispute, as a constitutional matter, until the Supreme Court chooses to decide it.

The following material was added at 3:09 pm:

The Court granted review of two new cases, with both to be heard in the next Term that starts in October.

In the case of Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co. (12-729), the Court agreed to sort out a dispute among lower courts on the deadline for filing a court case to challenge a denial of disability benefits under an ERISA employee plan.   That case involves an Arkansas woman’s claim for disability benefits from a benefit plan for Wal-Mart Stores employees.  Her claim was dismissed as having been filed after a deadline.  The petition sought review of additional issues, but the Court’s order limited review solely to the issue over the judicial review deadline.

In Sprint Communications Co. v. Jacobs (12-815), the Court said it would resolve a conflict among lower courts on the scope of a federal court’s duty to delay its proceedings because a similar state court lawsuit is underway, when both cases involved a dispute over state regulation of rates for telephone-via-Internet calls.

In two orders, the Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to offer the federal government’s views on whether the Justices should hear the cases.   After the government’s response is filed, the Court will then decide whether to grant review.

One of those cases grows out of the long-running dispute over attempts by investors to collect on court verdicts against the government of Argentina for defaulting on bonds it had sold to investors outside of Argentina.   As the case of Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital (12-842) reached the Court, the dispute centered on a federal judge’s order to two banks to turn over documents that would help an investor determine how Argentina moves its financial assets around the world.   In asking the Supreme Court to hear the issue, the government of Argentina contended that U.S. law only allows legal claims against a foreign government to be enforced against property located in the U.S., and the information claims at issue reach around the globe.  That is the issue on which the Solicitor General was asked to comment.

In the second case going to the Solicitor General for a reaction, the state of Texas is seeking permission to file a lawsuit directly in the Supreme Court — an Original complaint — against the state of New Mexico seeking to clarify the competing rights to use the waters of the Rio Grande River.   Texas’s suit argued that New Mexico has been using more than its share of the river’s waters under the Rio Grande Compact.  The lawsuit also would target Colorado, too, but only because it also is a member of that Compact.   The complaint was filed in 141 Original.

In another order, the Court refused to get drawn into a continuing legal controversy over a demand by police in Northern Ireland, sent to Boston College, in Boston, to turn over recordings made in an oral history project focusing on “foot soldiers” in the Irish Republican Party’s often-violent challenges to British rule.  The Northern Ireland police are pursuing a criminal case involving the abduction and murder of a woman member of the IRA who allegedly had served as an informer for the British government.

Two academic researchers involved with the oral history — the so-called “Belfast Project” — had asked the Supreme Court to bar the enforcement of the foreign police subpoenas, arguing that it infringed on academic freedom.   The First Circuit Court had rejected their challenge.  The First Circuit is still reviewing a broader set of subpoenas for recordings, in an appeal by Boston College.    In orders the Supreme Court issued Monday, it both refused to delay action until the First Circuit has completed its further review, and then denied review of the two researchers’ petition.   The case was Moloney v. Holder (12-627).



Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Court avoids gun rights dispute (FINAL UPDATE), SCOTUSblog (Apr. 15, 2013, 9:34 AM),