49-year-old Neil Gorsuch has been sworn in as the newest Justice on the United States Supreme Court today, and will almost immediately have an impact on the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, with two gun rights cases among those Justices will discuss in conference next week.
Gorsuch was hailed by gun rights activists, antiabortion organizations and business groups, and denounced by environmentalists, feminists and unions.
They will not have to wait long to see where Gorsuch fits in.
Within the week, Gorsuch will join his new colleagues in considering whether to hear two lower-court defeats being appealed by gun rights organizations. A case about whether business owners may refuse to offer their wedding services to same-sex couples awaits resolution. Soon, the justices will take up North Carolina’s request that they overturn a decision tossing out as unconstitutional its tightened voting restrictions.
And heading toward the court is Trump’s revamped travel ban on refugees and certain immigrants, a case that Senate Democrats said will test Gorsuch’s independence from the man who chose him for the high court.
“One notable difference between this nomination and those past is that Trump had clear, stated litmus tests for his nominee,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, which opposed Gorsuch’s confirmation. “Gorsuch will have the opportunity almost immediately to demonstrate just how closely he fits within two of President Trump’s stated litmus tests for his high-court nominee: guns and religion.”
Two gun issues await at Gorsuch’s first private conference with his new colleagues Thursday, when the court meets to decide whether to accept a long list of cases for the term that begins next fall.
The most important is a petition from gun rights activists asking the court to find for the first time that the Second Amendment right to keep a gun for self-defense extends to carrying firearms outside the home.
In cases from California, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that it did not. “Any prohibition or restriction a state may choose to impose on concealed carry – including a requirement of ‘good cause,’ however defined – is necessarily allowed by the [Second] Amendment,” it said.
A strongly worded dissent said that “any fair reading” of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision finding a constitutional right to gun ownership for self-defense “compels the conclusion that the right to keep and bear arms extends beyond one’s front door.”
Peruta v. County of San Diego is the primary case of interest to most gun rights supporters of cases in conference before the case next week. If heard by the court, Peruta could potentially strike down “may issue” concealed carry permitting schemes nationwide. “May issue” permitting allows the issuing authority to greatly (and frivolously) deny a concealed carry permit to citizens unless they can “prove a demonstrable need” for a permit, usually tied to a specific or past threat. Gun rights supporters (and indeed, anyone concerned with liberty) instead prefer “shall issue” permitting, in which issuing authorities must issue a permit unless authorities can find a good reason to not issue a permit (depending on the state, this could be some or all of the following: prohibited person status, domestic violence restrictions, history of drug and/or alcohol abuse).
If the lower court’s ruling in Peruta was upheld and “shall issue” permitting is deemed unconstitutional, restrictive permitting schemes in many states will have to be revamped, and perhaps thrown out entirely, based on how the decision itself is written.