Over the objections of two justices, the Supreme Court declined Monday to review a decision leaving intact San Francisco’s law requiring that handguns be stored in a lockbox or secured with a trigger lock.
Justice Clarence Thomas said his fellow justices were derelict in not accepting cases in which challengers say state and local restrictions on gun ownership and use infringe on the Second Amendment rights recognized by the Supreme Court in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller.
The court also accepted cases for argument in the term that begins next fall, including:
● A case arising from Maryland’s 2011 congressional redistricting plan, which has been criticized as one of the most gerrymandered in the country. The Supreme Court will not look at the specifics of the redistricting but whether a judge made a mistake by dismissing the challenge instead of referring it to a special three-judge panel.
● A challenge of a $2.9 million award to workers at a Tyson pork-processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa. The company claims that courts improperly relied on averages, rather than individualized harm, in computing the damages, and the outcome could have a major impact on similar class-action lawsuits.
In the gun case, individuals and gun rights groups tried to break through the reluctance of the Supreme Court to provide guidance on its 5-to-4 decision in Heller, which said that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to gun ownership for self-defense.
The court has turned aside requests that it examine laws related to carrying guns outside the home, who is qualified to receive licenses to carry weapons and other restrictions.
Under San Francisco’s law, handguns kept at home must be kept in a lockbox or outfitted with a trigger lock. Besides an almost total ban on handguns, the District of Columbia’s law contained similar restrictions on the few guns that were allowed.
The challengers said San Francisco’s law was the same.
“Although this is hardly the first time that a lower court has refused to take seriously this court’s watershed Second Amendment decisions, it is the first time that a lower court’s machinations concerning core rights and standards of review have permitted it to flout one of Heller’s explicit holdings,” the challengers told the court. “And unless and until this court provides courts with much-needed guidance in this area, the lower courts will continue to balance away the very Second Amendment rights that this court has recognized as fundamental.”
Thomas, joined by Heller author Justice Antonin Scalia, largely agreed with the challengers.
Thomas said that the San Francisco law “allows residents to use their handguns for the purpose of self-defense, but it prohibits them from keeping those handguns operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense” during times that “they are most vulnerable.”
The case is Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco.
In the redistricting case, judges have often criticized Maryland’s congressional redistricting plan, which was designed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to maximize the party’s control of congressional seats. One judge compared the 3rd Congressional District to a “broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
But the federal judge to which the case was initially assigned declined to move it forward to a special three-judge panel because “nothing about the congressional districts at issue in this case affects in any proscribed way Plaintiffs’ ability to participate in the political debate.”
A three-judge panel in Virginia recently ruled that state’s redistricting must be redone because it relied too heavily on race in drawing districts.
Common Cause, an advocacy group that opposes gerrymandering in Maryland, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to accept the case. “There is a standard in many voting rights cases which requires that they be heard by three-judge panels,” said Dan Vicuna, the group’s national redistricting coordinator.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has said the state’s redistricting process needs to be less politicized, expects to outline proposals to change the system within the next few weeks, according to his office.
Josh Hicks contributed to this report.