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Supreme Court hears arguments about now-repealed NYC gun law — but is there a case?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday about a now-repealed New York City law that limited where licensed gun owners could carry their weapons. It’s the Court’s first gun control case in nearly a decade, and thus highly anticipated. Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal joins John Yang to discuss whether there is a “live controversy” for the Court to address and what the justices said.

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  • John Yang:

    Today's Supreme Court oral arguments were highly anticipated, the first gun control case in a decade.

    It was about a now repealed New York City law that limited where licensed gun owners could carry their weapons. Second Amendment advocates saw the potential to expand gun rights.

    But, based on today's arguments, it appears the issue may have to wait.

    Marcia Coyle is chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal." She was in the courtroom this morning.

    Marcia, thanks for joining us.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Glad to be here, John.

  • John Yang:

    So why was this highly anticipated moment seems like it may be a little less than what people had hoped for?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, John, federal courts have to decide cases or controversies.

    After the — New York City repealed its law, the question arose, is there still a live controversy for the court to resolve? So the arguments today really were dominated by questioning both sides, the city's lawyer, as well as the lawyer for the gun rights organization, on whether they're still was something here for the justices to decide.

  • John Yang:

    And even on this issue, was the sort of ideological split on the court evident in the court you were there?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    There absolutely were.

    You had Justice Ginsburg, for example, saying to the lawyer for the gun rights organization, what is left of this case? She pointed out that the challengers to the city's law had received all that they sought in the initial lawsuit that they had filed.

    And you had, for example, Justice Sotomayor saying: The city threw in the towel here. And what are we to do with this? You're asking us to opine on the old law, when there's a new one in place.

    And then you had on the other side, though, Justices Gorsuch and Alito really push back on that. They seemed to be — their questions were geared more to see, was there still — were there still issues left unresolved?

    Justice Gorsuch was a — the court doesn't like it when, after they grant review, one of the parties takes an act to get rid of the case. So Justice Gorsuch called this a Herculean late-breaking attempt to moot the case.

    And Justice Alito also-called this an extraordinary step to keep the case from getting to the merits of the constitutional challenge. So they continued to probe the lawyers about whether there was still something that they could decide.

  • John Yang:

    Why was it so significant that the court took this case in the first place?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, first of all, it was the first case and almost a decade in which they were going to take up the Second Amendment.

    Gun rights organizations have been very frustrated with how the lower courts have been applying the Second Amendment to local and state government regulations of guns. And they — what they really want here, the bottom line is, they want the Supreme Court to announce a standard, a test that the lower courts have to use, a test with teeth, they claim, that will probably work more to their favor than they have — thus far, they have had very little success in the lower courts in knocking down gun regulations.

  • John Yang:

    And this — just to remind people, the court ruled in 2008 and then again in 2010 that there is an absolute right to own guns.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    It's — none of our rights are absolute, John, OK?

    The Supreme Court in 2008 said that there was an individual right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense, but it wasn't absolute. There is room for regulation. And that's where the battle is being fought, over how much regulation.

  • John Yang:

    And even if they don't decide this case on the merits, as they say, on the issue, will there be an opportunity for it to come up again?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    There could be.

    We see almost every term at least one gun rights challenge coming to the court. And, as you pointed out, it had been a decade since they took one. These challenges will continue to come.

    Already this term, the court had three cases. They turned away two, and took the New York City case.

  • John Yang:

    Marcia Coyle with "The National Law Journal," thanks so much.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    My pleasure, John.

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