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U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. “had no authority” to rule on a challenge to D.C.’s concealed-carry regulations, a federal court of appeals ruled today.
Following the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision in 2008, Scullin—who serves the Northern District in New York and had been a visiting judge in D.C. in 2014—ruled in the Palmer case that the city’s total ban on carrying concealed weapons outside the home was unconstitutional. The District then put in place a strict, “good reason” licensing scheme that was challenged earlier this year by the plaintiffs in the Wrenn suit. Scullin ruled that the regulations were unconstitutional, but his order was stayed in June.
D.C.’s Office of the Attorney General had since argued that Scullin lacked jurisdiction over the Wrenn case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed in its opinion released today.
“The error in this case is quite understandable,” Circuit Judge David B. Sentelle writes in today’s decision. “The calendar committee of the district court assigned the matter to Judge Scullin because it deemed the [Wrenn] case to be related to another case over which Judge Scullin presided [the Palmer case]. The difficulty is, while the earlier case was within the Chief Justice’s designation, the present one is not.”
In other words, Scullin acted beyond his “temporal limitations” when he ruled in the Wrenn case. “The designation for specific cases is not a technical matter,” Sentelle goes on to write. “It is in fact jurisdictional. We realize that we are undoing the work of litigation to date, but we have no choice.”
The latest ruling was first reported by The National Law Journal. You can read the appeal court’s ruling below.
Update, 3 p.m.: In a statement, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said today’s “ruling increases the likelihood that the case will be heard before a judge from our community—something that we have argued is crucial to understanding the public-safety issues at stake.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery