The news that Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired from the Supreme Court is sending liberals and progressives into a panic. Kennedy has of course been the key swing vote in abortion and gay rights cases. Whether those cases will withstand a new Supreme Court with five core conservatives is a serious question. But there is another area of Supreme Court jurisprudence that may also be dramatically affected by Kennedy’s retirement: the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court has only ruled in favor of an individual right to own guns in two decisions, and in neither one did Kennedy write his own opinion. He did, however, make up one of the five votes in both 2008’s D.C. v. Heller, and 2010’s McDonald v. City of Chicago. Both cases invalidated complete bans on possessing handguns in each city. The Supreme Court has not, however, returned to the Second Amendment since McDonald was decided, despite thousands of lower court cases wrestling with the balance between the right to keep and bear arms and public safety.
On the same day in 2014, the court refused to review three cases involving laws regulating the selling of guns to people across state lines as well as a Texas law prohibiting 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying guns in public. The justices have also declined to review cases upholding permitting procedures regulating guns in public in Maryland, New York and New Jersey, among many other laws and cases.
Justice Clarence Thomas has not been quiet about his anger over the court’s refusal to hear any new Second Amendment cases. In a dissent from the court’s refusal to hear a case challenging California’s 10-day waiting period for gun sales, he wrote that the Second Amendment is a “disfavored right” and the Supreme Court’s “constitutional orphan.” Furthermore, he said that the lower court’s sustaining of the waiting period was “symptomatic of the lower courts’ general failure to afford the Second Amendment the respect due an enumerated constitutional right.”
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