U.S. Supreme Court declines to expand crack cocaine reforms

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that potentially hundreds of low-level crack cocaine offenders cannot benefit under a 2018 federal law that reduced certain prison sentences in part to address racial disparities detrimental to Black defendants.

The justices in an opinion by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas ruled 9-0 against a Florida man named Tarahrick Terry who had asked them to include offenders like him – people who had been arrested in possession of small amounts of crack cocaine – within the scope of the First Step Act signed into law by former President Donald Trump.

The First Step Act provision in question made retroactive another 2010 law, called the Fair Sentencing Act, that reduced a disparity that had left sentencing for crack cocaine crimes more severe than for powder cocaine crimes.

Black defendants were far more likely to face crack cocaine charges than white defendants, who were more apt to face powder cocaine charges. Terry, scheduled to be released from prison in September, is Black.

Thomas wrote that the text of the law dictated a “straightforward result.” Thomas said that the efforts by Terry, backed by President Joe Biden’s administration, to argue otherwise constituted a linguistic “sleight of hand.”

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a separate opinion agreeing with the ruling and calling for Congress to amend the law, saying that it is unfair that some offenders did not benefit.

“This is no small injustice,” Sotomayor wrote.

The sentencing disparity was established by Congress in 1986 during that decade’s crack epidemic. Lawmakers created a 100-to-one quantity ratio under which a person arrested with just a small amount of crack cocaine would receive a much larger sentence than someone charged with possessing the same amount of powder cocaine. The 2010 law cut the ratio to 18-to-one, but did not apply it to those already convicted.

The 2018 law was passed with bipartisan congressional support. Although Trump signed the statute, his administration subsequently concluded that possession of a small amount of crack cocaine was not a “covered offense” under it.

Terry, now 33, pleaded guilty in 2008 in Florida to one count of possession with intent to distribute 3.9 grams of crack cocaine. He was sentenced to 15-1/2 years in prison. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled against Terry’s effort to reduce his sentence.

Justice Department lawyer Eric Feigin told the justices in the May oral argument in the case he could not provide definitive numbers on how many inmates would be affected but said it would likely be “in the low three figures.”

Those convicted of higher-level crack offenses are already covered under the First Step Act. As of the end of last year, more than 2,500 people had been released from prison under that law, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Thousands more inmates have been released from prison as a result of other First Step Act provisions.

Of those resentenced under the crack cocaine provision of the First Step Act, 91 percent were Black, according to the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for sentencing reform.

Sotomayor took issue with Thomas’s recitation of the history of the sentencing disparity, saying his account was “unnecessary, incomplete and sanitized” by among other things pointing out that Black leaders at the time had supported the legislation. Thomas is the court’s only Black justice.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court blocks permanent residency for some immigrants

By Andrew Chung

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to let immigrants who have been permitted to stay in the United States on humanitarian grounds apply to become permanent residents if they entered the country illegally, siding with President Joe Biden’s administration.

The justices, acting in an appeal by a married couple from El Salvador who were granted so-called Temporary Protected Status, unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that barred their applications for permanent residency, also known as a green card, because of their unlawful entry.

The case could affect thousands of immigrants, many of whom have lived in the United States for years. Biden, who has sought to reverse many of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, had opposed the immigrants in this case, placing the president at odds with immigration advocacy groups and some of his fellow Democrats.

A federal law called the Immigration and Nationality Act generally requires that people seeking to become permanent residents have been “inspected and admitted” into the United States. At issue in the case was whether a grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which gives the recipient “lawful status,” satisfies those requirements.

Writing for the court, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said that “because a grant of TPS does not come with a ticket of admission, it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry.”

Foreign nationals can be granted Temporary Protected Status if a humanitarian crisis in their home country, such as a natural disaster or armed conflict, would make their return unsafe. There are about 400,000 people in the United States with protected status, which prevents deportation and lets them work legally.

The case involves Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, who live in New Jersey and have four children.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court limits reach of federal computer fraud law

By Andrew Chung

-The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday limited the type of conduct that can be prosecuted under a federal computer fraud law, overturning a former Georgia police officer’s conviction for misusing a government database to investigate whether a purported local stripper was an undercover cop.

The justices, in a 6-3 decision authored by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, sided with former Cumming, Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren in an appeal of his conviction under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, reversing a lower court ruling that had upheld a jury verdict against him.

The justices agreed that Van Buren could not be convicted for misusing the database to perform the investigation because the information had been available to him as part of his job. Van Buren was charged after a 2015 FBI sting operation.

“This provision covers those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer – such as files, folders or databases – to which their computer access does not extend. It does not cover those who, like Van Buren, have improper motives for obtaining information that is otherwise available to them,” Barrett wrote in the ruling.

Three of the court’s conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, dissented from the ruling.

The dispute centered on a 1986 U.S. law meant to target hacking and related computer crimes. The law prohibits accessing a computer without authorization and also exceeding authorized access.

At issue was whether a person with authority to access a computer can be guilty of fraud for then misusing it. Van Buren had argued that the law targets only those with no right whatsoever to access the computer, whereas he was entitled to use the law enforcement database, even if it was for an inappropriate reason.

The U.S. Justice Department, in defending the conviction, argued that the law “aims directly at ‘insider’ conduct” like Van Buren’s “forbidden use of his law enforcement credentials.”

The dissenting justices had a different interpretation of the law’s text, finding that Van Buren’s actions were illegal because he was not entitled to the information he was otherwise authorized to access.

“Using a police database to obtain information in circumstances where that use is expressly forbidden is a crime,” Thomas wrote in his dissent.

Former President Donald Trump’s three conservative appointees to the court – Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch – were joined by the three liberal justices in the ruling.

Suffering financial difficulties, Van Buren had asked a local man, Andrew Albo, for money. Albo alerted law enforcement authorities and the FBI devised a sting in which Albo offered to pay Van Buren money to run a search for a license plate on a law enforcement database. Albo’s fictional story was that he wanted to find out if a local stripper was an undercover cop.

Albo gave Van Buren $6,000 and Van Buren conducted the search. A federal jury convicted Van Buren in 2017 of violating the computer fraud law and a separate count of honest services fraud. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 upheld the computer fraud conviction, but ordered a retrial on the other charge.

Van Buren told the justices that an overly broad view of the law would transform everyday activities into a federal crime – everything from filling out a college basketball tournament bracket while at work to posting an item on the wrong category on the Craigslist advertising website.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Major rulings including Obamacare loom for U.S. Supreme Court

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court heads into the last month of its current term with several major cases yet to be decided including a Republican bid to invalidate the Obamacare healthcare law, a dispute involving LGBT and religious rights and another focused on voting restrictions.

The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, now has 24 cases in total left to decide after issuing two rulings on Tuesday. There also is speculation about the potential retirement of its oldest justice, Stephen Breyer. Some liberal activists have urged Breyer, who is 82 and has served on the court since 1994, to step down so President Joe Biden can appoint a younger liberal jurist to a lifetime post on the court.

In the most notable of Tuesday’s decisions, the court unanimously endorsed the authority of Native American tribal police to stop and detain non-Native Americans on tribal land.

The court’s nine-month term starts in October and generally concludes by the end of June, though last year it continued into July because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking during an online event for students on Friday, Breyer hinted at the court’s complex deliberations that go into deciding high-stakes cases at this time of year.

“It’s complicated by the fact that you are dealing with eight other colleagues. … You’d better be willing to compromise,” Breyer said.

Republican-governed states have asked the court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, a law signed in 2010 by Democratic former President Barack Obama that has helped expand healthcare access in the United States even as Republicans call it a government overreach.

It appears unlikely based on November’s oral arguments that the court would take such a drastic step. But if the Obamacare law were to be struck down, up to 20 million Americans could lose their medical insurance and insurers could once again refuse to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. Obamacare expanded public healthcare programs and created marketplaces for private insurance.

Another major case yet to be decided is one that pits religious rights against LGBT rights as the justices weigh Philadelphia’s refusal to let a Catholic Church-affiliated group participate in the city’s foster care program because it would not accept same-sex couples as prospective foster parents.

The conservative justices appeared during the November arguments in the case to be sympathetic toward the Catholic group’s claim that its religious rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment had been violated. The court’s conservative majority has taken an expansive view of religious rights and has spearheaded several rulings backing churches in challenges to COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions.

With various states enacting new Republican-backed voting restrictions in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud, the court is preparing to rule in a case concerning Arizona voting limits.

Republican proponents of Arizona’s restrictions cite the need to combat voting fraud. A ruling upholding the restrictions could further undermine the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

The court also is getting ready to decide a closely watched case involving the free speech rights of public school students. It involves whether a high school that punished a cheerleader for a foul-mouthed social media post made off campus on a weekend violated her free speech rights under the First Amendment.

The court has taken up major cases on gun and abortion rights for its next term, which begins in October.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Biden’s U.S. Supreme Court commission meets to explore broad reforms

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s commission to study potential changes to the U.S. Supreme Court held its first meeting on Wednesday and will have six months to issue a report on reforms including possibly expanding the number of justices, an idea touted by some liberal activists and Democratic lawmakers.

“We definitely have our work cut out for us,” commission co-chair Cristina Rodriguez said at the end of the virtual meeting that lasted less than half an hour.

Rodriguez, a Yale Law School professor who served in the U.S. Justice Department under Democratic former President Barack Obama, said the 36-member bipartisan commission will not provide recommendations but rather evaluate the “merits and legality” of specific reform proposals.

The other co-chair is Bob Bauer of New York University School of Law, who served as White House counsel under Obama.

Biden, a Democrat, signed an executive order on April 9 creating the commission to examine possible changes to the nation’s top judicial body including expanding beyond the current nine justices or applying term limits instead of lifetime appointments.

It also will study the scope of the court’s power, its authority to strike down congressional legislation and how the justices select and decide cases. The commission will examine the court’s increasing use of the so-called shadow docket, an accelerated form of decision-making that can effectively resolve major disputes without oral arguments or signed rulings.

The court has a 6-3 conservative majority after Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump made three appointments during four years in office.

Republicans have opposed the idea of expanding the number of justices, sometimes called “court packing.” The last time court expansion was seriously pursued was in the 1930s by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt after a conservative court impeded his policies aimed at lifting America out of the Great Depression.

A group of liberal Democratic lawmakers last month introduced legislation that would expand the number of justices by four. The White House and some senior Democratic lawmakers balked at that legislation, preferring to let the commission to do its work.

The number of justices has remained at nine since 1869, but Congress has the power to change that and has done so several times. Term limits would likely require a constitutional amendment, though some scholars have proposed ways to do it by statute.

Liberal activists remain enraged that Trump was able to appoint three justices, including filling one vacancy after Senate Republicans blocked consideration of an Obama nominee in 2016, arguing that confirmation would be improper during a presidential election year. Last year, days before another presidential election, Senate Republicans speedily confirmed Trump’s final appointee, Amy Coney Barrett.

The commission began its work two days after the court charged back into the battle over abortion, agreeing on Monday to hear Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that would ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The eventual ruling could undercut the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

That case will be heard in the court’s next nine-month term that begins in October, as will another dispute touching upon the nation’s culture wars – a challenge to New York’s restrictions on people carrying concealed handguns in public.

Rulings in those cases are expected next year. If the conservative majority limits abortion rights and expands gun rights, support could build among Democratic lawmakers for major structural changes to the court, according to experts. Democrats narrowly control both chambers of Congress.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court takes up major challenge to abortion rights

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider gutting the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, taking up Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

By hearing the case in their next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022, the justices will look at whether to overturn a central part of the landmark ruling, a longstanding goal of religious conservatives.

The ruling by the conservative-majority court, expected next year, could allow states to ban abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb, upending decades of legal precedent. Lower courts ruled against Mississippi’s law.

In the Roe v. Wade decision, subsequently reaffirmed in 1992, the court said that states could not ban abortion before the viability of the fetus outside the womb, which is generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks. The Mississippi law would ban abortion much earlier than that. Other states have backed laws that would ban the procedure even earlier.

“Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is among those challenging the law.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a Republican, said she is committed to defending the law’s constitutionality.

“The Mississippi legislature enacted this law consistent with the will of its constituents to promote women’s health and preserve the dignity and sanctity of life. I remain committed to advocating for women and defending Mississippi’s legal right to protect the unborn,” Fitch said.

The Roe v. Wade ruling recognized that a constitutional right to personal privacy protects a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. The court in its 1992 decision, coming in the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, reaffirmed the ruling and prohibited laws that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

Abortion opponents are hopeful the Supreme Court will narrow or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority following the addition last year of former President Donald Trump’s third appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.


The Supreme Court in a 5-4 June 2020 ruling struck down a Louisiana law that imposed restrictions on doctors who perform abortions. The late liberal Justice Ruth Bader was still on the court at the time, and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court’s liberal wing in the ruling. Roberts, however, made it clear that he voted that way because he felt bound by the court’s 2016 ruling striking down a similar Texas law.

The 2018 Mississippi law, like others resembling it passed by Republican-led states, was enacted with full knowledge that was a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

After the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, sued to block the measure, a federal judge in 2018 ruled against the state. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions. The law at issue is a ban,” 5th Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States, as in many countries. Christian conservatives are among those most opposed to it. U.S. abortion rates have steadily declined since the early 1980s, reaching the lowest levels on record in recent years, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion group March for Life, said a ruling limiting abortion to early pregnancy would be in line with many other countries.

“States should be allowed to craft laws that are in line with both public opinion on this issue as well as basic human compassion, instead of the extreme policy that Roe imposed,” Mancini said.

The Louisiana case ruling marked the court’s first major abortion decision since Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Neil Gorsuch in 2017 as justices. Both voted in favor of Louisiana’s restrictions. If Barrett were to vote on similar lines, conservatives could have a majority to curb abortion rights regardless of how Roberts votes. Trump promised during the 2016 presidential race to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Mississippi appeal had been pending at the court since June 2020. During that time, Ginsburg died and was replaced by Barrett and Trump lost his re-election bid, to be replaced by Democratic President Joe Biden, who supports abortion rights.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court hands victory to immigrants facing deportation

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday offered new hope to thousands of long-term immigrants seeking to avoid deportation in a ruling that faulted the federal government for improperly notifying a man who came to the United States illegally from Guatemala to appear for a removal hearing.

The justices, in a 6-3 decision that divided the high court’s conservative bloc, overturned a lower court’s decision that had prevented Agusto Niz-Chavez from pursuing his request to cancel the attempted expulsion based on the length of time he had lived in the United States. He lives in Michigan with his family after entering the United States illegally in 2005.

The justices decided that federal immigration law requires authorities to include all relevant details for a notice to appear for a hearing in one document rather than sending the information across multiple documents. While a technical issue, the ruling could affect hundreds of thousands of immigration cases.

“In this case, the law’s terms ensure that, when the federal government seeks a procedural advantage against an individual, it will at least supply him with a single and reasonably comprehensive statement of the nature of the proceedings against him,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the ruling.

Gorsuch was joined by the court’s three liberal justices as well as conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett.

In a dissent, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, said the ruling was “perplexing as a matter of statutory interpretation and common sense.”

The ruling upends years of practice by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and in the short term will slow down the number of people placed in immigration proceedings, said Cornell University immigration law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr.

For many, Yale-Loehr added, “it does give them a second chance to try to prove that they qualify for cancellation of removal and other forms of relief.”

Under federal law, immigrants who are not lawful permanent residents may apply to have their deportation canceled if they have been in the United States for at least 10 years. The time counted to reach that threshold ends when the government initiates immigration proceedings with a notice to appear, a limit known as the “stop-time” rule.

In 2013, eight years after he entered the country, police stopped Niz-Chavez for a broken tail light on his vehicle. The federal government followed up with a notice to appear for a deportation hearing.

After the Supreme Court in 2018 found in another case that notices to appear that omitted the time and date of the hearing were deficient, Niz-Chavez cited his faulty notice to argue that the stop-time rule had not been triggered in his case.

The Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him in 2019, saying that the relevant information can be sent in more than one document. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court tackles pipeline company’s bid to seize New Jersey land

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday wrestled with a bid by a group of energy companies seeking to seize land owned by New Jersey to build a $1 billion natural gas pipeline, as the state argues that its rights would be trampled.

The justices heard arguments in an appeal by PennEast Pipeline Company LLC, a joint venture backed by energy companies including Enbridge Inc., of a lower court ruling in favor of New Jersey’s government, which opposes the land seizure.

Other companies in the consortium for the 116-mile (187-km) pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey include South Jersey Industries Inc, New Jersey Resources Corp (NJR), Southern Co and UGI Corp.

At issue in the case is a 1938 U.S. law called the Natural Gas Act that lets private energy companies seize “necessary” parcels of land for a project if they have obtained a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It effectively gives private companies the power of eminent domain, in which government entities can take property in return for compensation.

A ruling in favor of New Jersey would weaken the Natural Gas Act by allowing states to object to any attempts to seize their land.

Although some justices appeared sympathetic to the state’s legal arguments, they also seemed cautious about issuing a ruling that would overturn the longstanding understanding of the law and potentially imperil the PennEast project and others like it.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that it is “quite extraordinary” that private entities have the power normally vested in the federal government to go to court to seize a state’s land. But Roberts also noted that New Jersey opposes the project, meaning that if it does win the case there would be a “significant practical problem.”

Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out that the Natural Gas Act was enacted precisely because states had objected to pipelines being built.

“That’s been the understanding for the last 80 years,” Breyer said in reference to the current process.

PennEast’s lawyer, Paul Clement, said the project would be “at the mercy of New Jersey” if the pipeline loses the case because there is no way to re-route it without the state’s involvement.

One way the court could avoid some of the knotty legal issues would be to embrace an argument raised by the Clement that the eminent domain action was technically brought against the land in question and not against the state.

Some justices suggested the legal problem could be resolved by the federal government joining the pipeline’s lawsuit. President Joe Biden’s administration backs PennEast in the case.

FERC in 2018 approved PennEast’s request to build the pipeline. The company then sued to gain access to properties along the route.

New Jersey did not consent to PennEast’s seizure of properties the state owns or in which it has an interest. The state cites the U.S. Constitution’s 11th Amendment, which bars courts from hearing certain lawsuits against states.

PennEast wants the land to build a pipeline designed to deliver 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of gas – enough to supply about 5 million homes – from the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania to customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

After a federal judge approved the property seizure, the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that PennEast could not use federal eminent domain to condemn land controlled by the state. Also at issue in the case is whether the 3rd Circuit had jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court takes major case on carrying concealed handguns

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court stepped back into the heated debate over gun rights on Monday, agreeing to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to New York state’s restrictions on people carrying concealed handguns in public in a case that could further undermine firearms control efforts nationally.

The justices took up an appeal by two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the NRA, an influential gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans, of a lower court ruling throwing out their challenge to the restrictions on concealed handguns outside the home.

Lower courts rejected the argument made by the plaintiffs that the restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The lawsuit seeks an unfettered right to carry concealed handguns in public.

The case could lead to the most consequential ruling on the Second Amendment’s scope in more than a decade. The court’s 6-3 conservative majority is seen as sympathetic to an expansive view of Second Amendment rights.

Gun control advocates are concerned that the conservative justices could create a standard for gun control that could imperil existing policies at the state level including expanded criminal background checks for gun buyers and “red flag” laws targeting the firearms of people deemed dangerous by the courts.

A state firearms licensing officer had granted the two gun owners “concealed carry” permits but restricted them to hunting and target practice, prompting the legal challenge.

The U.S. debate over gun control has intensified following a spate of recent mass shootings. A day after an April 15 shooting in Indianapolis in which a gunman killed eight employees at a FedEx facility and then himself, President Joe Biden called U.S. gun violence a “national embarrassment.”

Biden, a long-time gun control advocate, has taken some steps to tighten federal firearms regulations. But major policy changes would require congressional passage. Senate Republicans stand in the way of Democratic-backed gun control measures already passed in the House of Representatives.

The New York case centers on a state law that requires a showing of “proper cause” for carrying concealed handguns. Under it, residents may obtain licenses restricted to hunting and target practice, or if they hold jobs such as a bank messenger or correctional officer.

To carry a concealed handgun without restriction, applicants must convince a firearms licensing officer that they have an actual, rather than speculative, need for self-defense.

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and two of its members, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, sued in federal court. The men said they do not face any unique danger but want carry a handgun for self-defense.


“We’re confident that the court will tell New York and the other states that our Second Amendment right to defend ourselves is fundamental, and doesn’t vanish when we leave our homes,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said her office intends to show that the state’s law complies with the Second Amendment, adding, “We will vigorously defend any challenge to New York state’s gun laws that are intended to protect public safety.”

The Supreme Court in a landmark 2008 ruling recognized for the first time an individual’s right to keep guns at home for self-defense, and in 2010 applied that right to the states. The plaintiffs in the New York case asked for that right to be extended beyond the home.

A ruling invalidating New York’s law could imperil similar laws in other states setting criteria for a concealed-carry license. Seven other states and the District of Columbia impose restrictions that give authorities more discretion to deny concealed firearm permits.

The justices will hear the case during their next term, which begins in October, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)