Gun Case Puts Focus on Sotomayor & Future Nominees

The Supreme Court announced today that it will decide, in McDonald v. Chicago, whether the Second Amendment applies to state and local gun laws. That puts the focus on the Court’s newest Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, and on President Obama’s future picks for the Court.

Gun owners were alarmed by Sotomayor’s nomination to the Court, because of her “extreme anti-gun philosophy” and record on the Second Circuit, in the words of former NRA president Sandy Froman. At her Senate hearing this summer, Sotomayor defended that record by saying that her hands were tied by old Supreme Court precedent. Now that she’s on the High Court, her hands are no longer tied. She will have a lot of explaining to do if she decides in McDonald that the right to keep and bear arms is the only significant right in the Bill of Rights that doesn’t apply to the states. Such a decision would indicate that she was not serious when she promised the Senate that she would put the rule of law above ideology.

Today’s announcement ensures that gun owners will continue to play a big role in Supreme Court confirmations, just as they did this summer. The Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, recognizing the Second Amendment as an individual right, moved the battle over gun rights from the legislatures to the courts. That set the stage for gun owners to enter the judicial wars. The decision to review McDonald puts the future of gun rights back squarely in the Supreme Court, reinforcing the conviction among gun owners that their fate is now in the hands of judges and that their continued involvement in the judicial confirmation process is vital.

Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonald, it will further focus the Second Amendment community on the needs for constitutionalist judges. Heller was limited to federal gun laws and the District of Columbia, but most of the laws that worry gun owners are at the state and local level. If the McDonald decision recognizes an individual Second Amendment right at that level, the number of gun rights cases – and thus the importance of the judges issue to gun owners – will explode. Should the Supreme Court rule the other way in McDonald, the anger of gun owners will be a force to reckon with every time there’s a Supreme Court nomination.

Cross-posted at the Committee for Justice blog.