With mass shootings in Texas, New York and California fresh in Americans’ mind, the Supreme Court will soon issue its biggest gun ruling in more than a decade, one expected to make it easier to carry guns in public in some of the largest cities.
Already in an uncomfortable spotlight over a leaked draft opinion that would overrule Roe v. Wade’s nationwide right to abortion, the justices also are facing a possible backlash from the guns case. In both cases the court could issue decisions that polls say would be unpopular with the majority of people in the United States.
It remains to be seen how — or whether — blue states will cooperate with the court’s ruling on guns.
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The Supreme Court has recently faced public image problems, especially among liberals unhappy with the court’s expected decision on abortion.
A poll released this week found public approval of the court has fallen to 44%, down from 54% in March. The poll was conducted after the leak of the draft abortion decision, which has sparked protests and round-the-clock security at justices’ homes, demonstrations at the court and concerns about violence following the court’s ultimate decision. The court itself has been ringed in a tall security fence for weeks in anticipation of the abortion ruling.
In 2020, AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of the electorate, showed 69% of voters in the presidential election said the Supreme Court should leave the Roe v. Wade decision as is, while 29% said the court should overturn the decision.
About half of voters in the 2020 presidential election said gun laws in the U.S. should be made more strict, according to AP VoteCast. An additional one-third said gun laws should be kept as they are, while about 1 in 10 said gun laws should be less strict. Responses may vary by locality.
The court’s justices remain somewhat insulated from public opinion, with their lifetime appointments. Granted, the justices remain subject to impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate. However, only one justice has ever been impeached, and no justice has ever been removed.
In the leaked decision overturning Roe, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the court should not be swayed by public opinion. “We do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond to today’s decision. … And even if we could foresee what will happen, we would have no authority to let that knowledge influence our decision,” he wrote.
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On the other hand, Justice Elena Kagan has argued that the court depends on public respect in order to make workable rulings.
“You know we don’t have an army. We don’t have any money. The only way we can get people to do what we think they should do is because people respect us,” Justice Elena Kagan said in 2018.
President Andrew Jackson once seemed prepared to ignore a ruling from a court that he did not respect. Jackson once said, according to legend, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his ruling; now let him enforce it.”
Some liberals have developed a Jacksonian attitude to the court’s expected rulings on abortion.
Some states are already telling other states how to enforce their abortion bans. Last year, Texas passed a law prohibiting some residents of other states from mailing abortion pills to Texas residents, under penalty of being extradited to Texas to be charged with a possible felony.
Earlier this month, Connecticut passed a law in response. It prevents the extradition of women and abortion providers, and it allows people sued under the Texas law to countersue in order to pay their legal fees.
The court’s gun decision may be followed similar battles between states.
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The gun case the court is considering involves a New York law that makes it difficult for people to get a permit to carry a gun outside the home. To do so, a person has to show a particular need to carry the weapon.
When the case was argued in November, it sounded from the justices’ questions as though the justices were prepared to strike down the law as too restrictive. Similar laws exist in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, and the Biden administration has said those states could be affected by a ruling against New York.
One of two conservative justices, Thomas or Amy Coney Barrett, probably is writing the guns opinion, based on the court’s usual practice of giving each justice at least one opinion for each month the court hears cases. Neither has written yet in the cases heard early in November.
The decisions in both the abortion and guns cases are expected to be released sometime in the next month before the justices take their summer break.
No matter how the court decides the New York case, other gun rights disputes are already at or nearing the court. The justices have been asked to hear cases challenging limits on ammunition magazine capacities in New Jersey and California as well as a challenge to Maryland’s assault weapons ban.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court struck down California’s ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21, holding it violated the Second Amendment. That case too could be headed to the court.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.