CHALLENGING THE LAW: ALAN GURA
For Young Area Lawyer, The Supreme Compliment
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Even for a lawyer with decades of experience and a résumé of eminent achievements, an opportunity to help shape constitutional history might never come along.
Then there's Alan Gura, 37, Class of '95 at Georgetown University Law Center. For him, the chance has just arrived.
When the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today in District of Columbia v. Heller, a case that could lead to a landmark ruling on the Second Amendment, Gura will address the justices for the first time in his career.
He'll ask them to uphold a lower appellate ruling that struck down the District's handgun ban, one of the nation's toughest gun control laws, which was passed in 1976. He'll urge them to interpret the Constitution as guaranteeing people the right to own firearms.
To merely call this the biggest case of Gura's relatively short professional life -- well, that wouldn't do it justice. Constitutional scholars everywhere are watching. To oppose him, the city has hired a 66-year-old legal titan who was winning arguments in the Supreme Court when Gura was still studying for the bar exam.
Must be nerve-racking.
"Not really," Gura said. "It's certainly very exciting to be able to argue not just in front of the Supreme Court, but to argue this case in particular. But at the end of the day, it's an appellate argument, and I've done a lot of those.
"It's the practice of law," he said simply. "And I've been practicing law for a while now."
Gura, a civil litigation specialist in the two-lawyer firm of Gura & Possessky, was hired to handle the legal fight in 2003 by a social acquaintance, Robert A. Levy, the wealthy retired entrepreneur turned libertarian scholar who is bankrolling the case.
Levy, a nonpracticing lawyer, and Clark M. Neily III, a libertarian public-interest lawyer who deals mainly with property rights, had laid the groundwork for the litigation by recruiting a diverse group of plaintiffs: six D.C. residents, all strangers to each other, who want to own pistols.
But Levy and Neily needed a lawyer to represent the residents in a lawsuit against the city.
"Bob just called me on the phone one day," said Gura, a Los Angeles native who studied government at Cornell University before enrolling at Georgetown. "Bob is not a litigator, and Clark has a job doing something else, so they needed someone to take the reins.