The Supreme Court Monday declined to dismiss a Second Amendment challenge to a firearm regulation in New York City after Democrats threatened the justices with court packing, fearing a divided ruling.
The case involves a New York City system that set up two types of licenses for handgun possession: one that allowed carry outside the home, and the other that only authorized possession at a home or business.
The city had an ordinance that prevented those with the home-only license from transporting their weapons to second homes or shooting ranges outside the city.
Gun rights groups challenged the ordinance, but lower courts sided with the city.
The gun rights groups have asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, and it is scheduled to be argued Dec. 2.
New York, though, fearing a loss that could turn into a major pro-gun precedent, scrambled to undo its ordinance. The city, along with Democratic lawmakers, has petitioned the court to refuse to hear the case, arguing the change in law has made the conflict moot.
“The respondents’ suggestion of mootness is denied. The question of mootness will be subject to further consideration at oral argument, and the parties should be prepared to discuss it,” the court noted in its orders.
Democrats fear a 5-4 ruling would expand on the last 12 years of pro-gun rulings.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse argued in a brief, joined by other Senate Democrats, that a series of similar rulings with “bare partisan majorities” has damaged the public trust in the federal judiciary.
The Rhode Island Democrat said in his filing that the GOP-majority on the court is too tainted to deliver a valid ruling, reminding the court it could be restructured in the future.
He pointed to a Quinnipiac poll from May, which found 55% of Americans said the court was “mainly motivated by politics.”
Mr. Whitehouse did not elaborate on what the public pressure for a “restructured” court might look like.
But several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have suggested they would propose expanding the high court to as many as 15 justices if they win the White House, then fill those seats with liberal members to counter the GOP’s current 5-4 majority in appointments.
The idea of packing the court was rejected by its most senior Democratic appointee, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, last month.
“Nine seems to be a good number, and it’s been that way for a long time,” Justice Ginsburg said in an interview with NPR.
Mr. Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that vets federal judges, pointed out in his brief that Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, confirmed to the court last year, was backed by the National Rifle Association during his confirmation process.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, rejected Mr. Whitehouse’s arguments on Twitter, saying the high court is just fine.
“The Supreme Court is well. The American political system is the sick patient (Kavanaugh hearings). The Court is moving center-right and getting out of the left ditch. That’s exactly where the country is headed!” Mr. Graham posted on Twitter.