By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will take the special step of releasing audiotapes of oral arguments on the same day that it hears a case challenging the District's gun law.
Every argument before the justices is recorded, but the tapes normally are not available until well after the court's term has ended. But beginning in 2000, with the arguments in Bush v. Gore, the court has released same-day audiotapes in high-profile cases when there is substantial media interest.
Because the court is not open to cameras, the audiotapes are the only recordings of the proceedings.
The case of District of Columbia v. Heller, to be heard March 18, will be the court's first consideration of the meaning of the Second Amendment in nearly 70 years. Last year, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2 to 1 that the District's ban on private handgun possession violated the amendment.
The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own a firearm, and if so, what restrictions government may place on that right. It is one of the most prominent cases of the court's term. More than 60 organizations and individuals have filed amicus briefs to support the city or those challenging what is acknowledged as the nation's strictest gun control law.
This term, the court released same-day audiotapes in two other important cases, one involving the rights of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison and the other involving the constitutionality of lethal injections.
The arguments in the gun control case are scheduled for 10 a.m. March 18. Each side will receive 30 minutes to present its case, and U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement has been granted 15 minutes for the federal government's views. The tapes will be released soon after the proceedings.
Clement's brief agrees with the law's challengers that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear arms, but it argues that the appeals court too broadly decided the case against the District. It recommends that the case be returned to lower courts.