WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to take up two gun-related cases out of California, maintaining its reluctance to dive back into the debate concerning the scope of the 2nd Amendment.
In an unsigned order, the court let stand a ruling upholding California’s law mandating a 10-day waiting period and another imposing fees on firearm transactions to fund background checks.
The court’s order comes at a sensitive time as the country is reeling from the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The denials also signal the court remains unwilling to take another look at several lower court rulings 10 years after its landmark opinion that found for the first time that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a firearm in the house, drawing a scathing dissent from conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who accused the court of sidestepping the issue.
The California law requiring a 10-day waiting period was challenged by a firearm owner and the gun-rights group Second Amendment Foundation, who argued it was unfair for people who already owned firearms to have to wait the same amount of time as first-time purchasers who were undergoing background checks during that time.
While a lower court sided against the firearm owners, the 9th US Circuit of Appeals upheld the state law, and Tuesday’s Supreme Court action means it will remain in effect.
The second case involves gun owners and the National Rifle Association challenging a California law that imposes fees on all firearms transactions in order to pay for background checks. When there is a surplus of funds, the money is diverted to fund law enforcement programs dedicated to tracking down individuals who unlawfully possess firearms.
Lawyers for the challengers argued in court papers, “while constitutionally protected conduct may be subject to generally applicable taxes and fees, it may not be singled out for special monetary extractions designed to profit from, or worse still, discourage the exercise of the constitutional right.”
The 9th Circuit upheld the fees, and the Supreme Court allows them to remain in place.
Will court address Heller?
The NRA conservatives have been urging justices in recent years to expand upon the 2008 decision in Heller v. United States and a second ruling two years later.
Thomas issued a lengthy dissent in the 10-day waiting period case to criticize some lower courts for treating 2nd Amendment rights “cavalierly.”
“The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this court’s constitutional orphan,” Thomas wrote. “And the lower courts seem to have gotten the message.”
It’s been “nearly eight years” since the court issued an opinion declaring that the Second Amendment is not a “second class right,” Thomas wrote, saying that by refusing to take up the issue the justices “undermine that declaration.”
As a result, he said, lower courts are “failing to protect the Second Amendment to the same extent that they protect other constitutional rights.”
Moreover, Thomas said he suspected that four members of the court would vote to review a 10 day waiting period for abortions, or a 10-day waiting period on the publication of racist speech, or a 10 minute delay of a traffic stop because “abortion, speech and the Fourth Amendment are three of its favored rights.”
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