A surge of 2nd Amendment related cases has flooded America’s legal system in the wake of 2008’s D.C. vs. Heller case. The court ruled in Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), that the 2nd Amendment protected an individual right to keep and bear arms, but more specific answers about how to implement that ruling were left up in the air. A wide variety of gun law cases were submitted to the Supreme Court for review this year, but the court has declined to hear any of them. Let’s take a quick look at the contenders.
People v. Delacy, 192 Cal. App. 4th 1481 (2011), involved people whose 2nd Amendment rights were taken away because they have been convicted of certain misdemeanors, such as domestic violence. Delacy asked the Supreme Court to revisit these restrictions and determine whether the government is unfairly discriminating against citizens convicted of these misdemeanors. The Supreme Court requested a response from the government regarding Delacy in October of last year, so some court watchers had guessed that Delacy was going to be reviewed, but the petition for a hearing (called “certiorari”) was denied last week.
The court also declined to hear Lowery v. United States, No. 06-CM-1195, 2010 WL 3501574 (D.C. Sept. 9, 2010). The Lowery case involved a person who was convicted of possessing a handgun under the D.C. gun ban that was struck down by Heller. Lowery had asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether that conviction should be overturned since the law he was convicted of breaking has been ruled unconstitutional, but they refused to hear his case, so his conviction (and all the other convictions generated by the unconstitutional ban) will stand.
Two cases, Williams v. Maryland, 417 Md. 479 (2011), and United States v. Masciandaro, 638 F.3d 458 (4th Cir. 2011), dealt with whether the 2nd Amendment extends outside the home or not. Williams was convicted for possessing a handgun outside his home without a permit that is nearly impossible to get in Maryland. Masciandaro was caught with a loaded handgun in his vehicle while visiting a National Park. Of course, a law that took effect in 2010 now allows firearms in National Parks, but Masciandaro’s conviction will remain.
One more interesting case that the Supreme Court refused to hear was Willis v. Winters, 350 Or. 299 (2011). A group of sheriffs in Oregon asked the court to rule on whether they have to follow an Oregon State Supreme Court decision requiring them to issue concealed carry licenses to medial marijuana patients. It seems that the Oregon State Supreme Court is requiring the sheriffs to violate federal law by their ruling. However, this case simultaneously involves conflict of opposing laws between the federal government and a state, 2nd Amendment law, and drug laws regarding who is an is not an “unlawful user” of controlled substances. The U.S. Supreme Court prefers to keep its rulings narrowly defined and make the smallest changes to the law that they can, so it is no surprise that they steered clear of this complicated mess of a case. The Oregon sheriffs seem stuck with violating federal law if they hand out concealed carry permits to pot smokers, and violating a State Supreme Court directive if they refuse to issue those permits.
There are at least two more cases pending that still may be considered by the Court this year. United States v. Portillo-Munoz, 643 F.3d 437 (5th Cir. 2011), is a challenge to federal law prohibiting gun possession by illegal aliens, and United States v. Booker, 644 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2011), is another challenge to the prohibition on guns for persons convicted of domestic violence. If you are discouraged that the Supreme Court is not considering any 2nd Amendment cases yet, consider the following numbers. The U.S. Supreme Court receives about 8,000 petitions each year asking them to review the constitutionality of our nation’s laws. They manage to hear the oral arguments of around 700 cases a year, nearly an average of two cases per day including Sundays, but that is still less than one percent of all the cases submitted to them. So be patient! All the indications are that the Supreme Court isn’t ignoring the 2nd Amendment as much as they are waiting for the “right” case.