The U.S. Supreme Court dodge in a long-awaited New York City gun-rights case should alarm civil rights activists across America. Last April’s decision constitutes a bold, new strategy for those seeking to suppress civil liberties.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, involved restrictions on the transport of handguns by licensed permit holders. For years, New York City and New York State authorities knew the regulations unfairly limited gun-permit holders’ rights, but did nothing to remove these rules from the books.
In March 2019, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case, lawmakers suddenly sprang into action! The New York State legislature passed a repeal of these old rules which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed last July. The City and State then argued last December that a Supreme Court review of these laws no longer was necessary, since they had been rescinded.
The Court’s four liberal-leaning justices bought the City’s argument and voted to dismiss the case. Surprisingly, two conservative-leaning jurists, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts concurred, yielding a 6-3 majority at the expense of the Second Amendment.
Did the Court’s liberal wing not realize that they delineated an effective strategy to deny civil liberties and hinder social justice? According to this new precedent, a governing body could pass any law, even if it expects the courts to overturn it. If it gets sued, then repeal the statute at the last minute.
What a recipe for the abuse of power!
Here is how this dastardly strategy might be used: Say a state legislature wishes to suppress a minority group’s vote. It could pass legislation that would achieve the intended outcome and operate while litigation against that new law meandered through the courts. (The case decided Monday was filed in 2013!) Throughout this time, the aggrieved minority group could spend thousands or possibly millions of dollars arguing this suit. Simultaneously, they would be deprived of their rights for years.
Once the case against this new law approached a final judgement, the legislature simply could repeal the legislation, thus nullifying the plaintiff’s suit. The legislature then could reinstitute the law, or one like it, and restart the cycle of oppression. If the former plaintiffs lacked the resources and energy to return to this fight, the unjust new law could sit on the books for decades.
Dissenting Justices Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, and Neil Gorsuch realized this problem: “By incorrectly dismissing this case as moot, the Court permits our docket to be manipulated in a way that should not be countenanced.”
Also, after the legislation in question has been repealed, the state can continue to enforce it at the agency level. The NYC case is a prime example of this. Although Governor Cuomo signed repeal legislation, the NYPD License Division simply ignored the new rules. Their attitude: Go ahead. Sue us!
Court fights are lengthy and expensive. This republic was forged by brave souls who stood up against goliaths to achieve the civil liberties that Americans enjoy today. The civil-rights trailblazers of tomorrow will face the added fear that they never will receive their day in court nor a definitive rendering of justice. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it possible for these future plaintiffs and their causes to be thwarted by defendants who game the courts.
This is truly disgraceful!