Five Democratic U.S. senators filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court last week, imploring the justices to drop a case pertaining to a New York City gun law or risk appearing politically influenced. The brief was immediately panned by conservative lawmakers for its insolent tone and tenor, a stance echoed by left-leaning legal expert Laurence Tribe on Monday afternoon.
Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School, said that while he may agree with the legal conclusions espoused in the brief, which was authored by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, he also believed the message was unsuitably delivered to the court.
“I agree the Court should drop this case as moot and am usually a fan of [Senator Sheldon Whitehouse] but I think this brief was inappropriately — and stupidly— threatening,” Tribe wrote. “If anything is calculated to get the Court’s back up, it’s a brief like this. Really bad move.”
The controversy stems from a New York law that prohibited gun owners from transporting their guns to shooting ranges and second homes located outside New York City. After a gun association challenged the law, the city amended the law, which now allows for the transportation of guns anywhere owners are legally allowed to possess their firearm. Despite the change, the gun association wants the justices to decide on the constitutionality of the law as it was originally passed.
Whitehouse was joined in the brief by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), which argued that if the court refused to vacate and remand the case to the lower court with instructions for it to be dismissed, the court may face a public backlash and calls for a “restructuring” of the court.
“Today, fifty-five percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court is ‘mainly motivated by politics’…fifty-nine percent believe the Court is ‘too influenced by politics’ and a majority now believes the ‘Supreme Court should be restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics,’” the brief said.
The senators also appeared to direct their ire at the conservative justices, saying they’ve failed to uphold their principles in the face of partisan politics.
“The pattern of outcomes is striking; and so is the frequency with which these 5–4 majorities disregarded ‘conservative’ judicial principles like judicial restraint, originalism, stare decisis, and even federalism,” the brief said, before reaching its ominous conclusion. “The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it. Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’ Particularly on the urgent issue of gun control, a nation desperately needs it to heal.”
Writing for the National Review, conservative author and former Cornell Law School lecturer David French was even more astonished by the brief’s nastiness, calling it “easily the most malicious Supreme Court brief I’ve ever seen.”
[image via MSNBC screengrab]