Washington, DC, Aug. 14, 2019 – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case bringing the first major challenge to gun safety laws since 2010.
Against the backdrop of shocking gun violence in America, the senators detail how the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Federalist Society, and other dark money-funded partisan groups have engineered the case before the Court, and engineered the Court’s current Republican-appointed majority to rule in special interests’ favor. They highlight how those groups shape the Court’s composition and jurisprudence through dark-money spending on judicial confirmations and coordinated amicus campaigns, and lay out the Court’s regrettable record of partisan, 5-4 decisions advancing Republican donor interests. They argue that the Court should reject efforts to enlist it in what petitioners tellingly describe as “the project” of previous Second Amendment challenges, Heller and McDonald, to weaken gun violence protections.
“[C]ourts do not undertake political ‘projects.’ Or at least they should not,’” Whitehouse, Hirono, Blumenthal, Durbin, and Gillibrand write. “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, notwithstanding the public imperatives of these massacres, the NRA and its allies brashly presume, in word and deed, that they have a friendly audience [on the Court] for their ‘project.’”
The senators call attention to the damage to the Court’s legitimacy that would be done by ignoring neutral justiciability principles—bedrock legal principles limiting the court’s review to actual cases and controversies—in order to deliver for partisan donors propping up the likes of the NRA.
The senators cite growing concern among Americans with the political nature of the Court. According to Quinnipiac, 55 percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court is “mainly motivated by politics” (up 5 percent from last year); 59 percent believe the Court is “too influenced by politics”; and a majority now believes the “Supreme Court should be restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.”
“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it,” the senators conclude. “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.”
The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, concerns whether New York City’s now-defunct ban on transporting a handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is consistent with the Second Amendment. Having agreed to review the case despite the absence of a dispute between lower appellate courts, the Court appears prepared to rule on the merits of the Second Amendment challenge even though New York City effectively repealed the regulation at issue. The senators argue that the fact that the City repealed the regulation renders the challenge moot.
Special interest spending on campaigns to influence the Court rivals that of political campaigns. For instance, last year, the NRA spent $1.2 million on television ads urging support for the confirmation of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “Four liberal justices oppose your right to self-defense, four justices support your right to self-defense,” the NRA claimed in one such ad. “President Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh to break the tie. Your right to self-defense depends on this vote.”
Access the senators’ full brief here.