Today, the United States Supreme Court dismissed the NYSRPA v. NYC case as moot. (This is the case in which we filed an amicus brief discussing the standard under which Second Amendment Cases should be decided.) But wait, they what? What does this mean?
The mootness doctrine is a long-standing element of American law which states that in order for the courts to render a decision in a case, there must still be a question or issue between the parties to be decided. If something has happened in the meantime to make it so there is no longer a controversy or issue, the case is moot and is dismissed. The question here was whether a well known exception to that doctrine came into play – could NYC simply change the law while it was pending in front of the court and then change it back as soon as the case was dismissed. NYC argued the change was permanent and the Court agreed, finding the case moot because the change NYC had made in fact granted the exact relief that NYSRPA had demanded in their original claims
SO THE CASE IS OVER, RIGHT?
Well, usually, it would be. But the Court here invoked another exception to send the case back down to the lower courts for more proceedings. NYSRPA had argued that there were further problems they were facing under the rewritten law, and argued they should be allowed to claim monetary damages (something they did not do originally). The Supreme Court (correctly) noted that this was not a decision to be made at its level, but instead was something that the lower courts would need to determine. So now, NYSRPA can go back to the lower courts and argue they should be able to amend their claims to address the restrictions now in place. The case is not completely dead, but it will be a long time before further litigation makes a change in the current policy.
IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS FOR THE 2A HERE?
Yes, there is. Justice Kavanaugh stated that he agreed with both the dismissal and the dissent by Justice Alito, who would have kept the case at the court and made a decision (because he did not believe it was moot). Specifically, Justice Kavanaugh stated his concern “that some federal and state courts may not be properly applying Heller and McDonald. The Court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases with petitions for certiorari now pending before the Court.” Alito also alluded to this issue in his dissent. There are several very good cases pending before the Court which may provide an even better chance for the Court to provide guidance to the lower courts with regard to how 2A cases should be decided. For a case to be heard by the court, four of the nine justices must vote to hear it. With Kavanaugh firmly in the camp willing to look at the standards being applied by the lower courts, we should expect to see a 2A case sooner rather than later on the docket.