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The Supreme Court declined to issue an emergency injunction request against an Illinois city’s “assault weapons” ban on Wednesday.
The request was made by the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), which has challenged a ban on AR-15s and similar firearms enacted by Naperville, Illinois. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who oversees the circuit the case is filed in, requested a brief from the city in defense of its law after the gun-rights group asked the Court to intervene because a lower court upheld the ban.
“The application for a writ of injunction pending appeal presented to Justice Barrett and by her referred to the Court is denied,” the order in NAGR v. Naperville reads.
Barrett’s request for a brief in the case opened the possibility that the Court might be willing to jump the line and block the city’s ban on an emergency basis. That would have been a rare move, which the Court also declined to do in two recent Second Amendment cases challenging New York’s latest gun restrictions. The Court taking the less aggressive path of allowing the case to play out on the merits in the lower courts before deciding whether or not to get involved represents a setback for gun-rights advocates who had hoped they could achieve a quick win on the issue of assault weapons bans.
Naperville said it is “pleased” with the decision and vowed to continue defending its ban.
“The City’s ordinance is intended to protect the health and safety of our community,” Linda L. LaCloche, director of communications for the city manager’s office, told The Reload. “We will continue to defend the ordinance against legal challenges and expect future court decisions as the legal process runs its course.”
NAGR emphasized that the decision doesn’t implicate the merits of the case and promised to continue pursuing their claim–back up to the Supreme Court if need be.
“Any action the Supreme Court would have taken at this point would only have been temporary and not on the merits of the case itself,” Hannah Hill, executive director of the group’s legal arm, said in a statement. “Clearly, the Supreme Court is watching the issue closely and we look forward to appealing very soon on the merits if the 7th Circuit rules against us – as the signs currently point to.”
The case against Naperville’s ban is separate from the newer statewide ban. Naperville enacted its ban in August 2022. State lawmakers passed their ban in January 2023. Both have faced significant backlash from gun-rights supporters but the statewide ban has come under even more intense scrutiny since its passage.
The statewide ban has since been ruled unconstitutional in state and federal court, though those rulings have since been stayed by higher courts. Oral arguments in the case against the statewide ban were heard at the Illinois Supreme Court yesterday. It has also faced backlash from a majority of Illinois sheriffs who say they won’t enforce the ban because they consider it unconstitutional.
The Naperville ordinance has fared better by comparison. A federal district judge denied a preliminary injunction against the Naperville ordinance in February, and the Seventh Circuit rejected NAGR’s request to block enforcement of the law while its appeal is being processed. Now, the Supreme Court has done the same.
The Court’s denial of NAGR’s request in the Naperville case was done without any comment or noted dissents. That sets it apart from one of the emergency injunction denials in the New York Second Amendment cases. In Antonyuk v. Nigrelli, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, noted the Court’s decision not to intervene on an emergency basis reflected its deference to lower court proceedings rather than an endorsement of New York’s new gun restrictions.
“I understand the Court’s denial today to reflect respect for the Second Circuit’s procedures in managing its own docket, rather than expressing any view on the merits of the case,” Alito wrote.
The pair said the New York law in question presents “novel and serious questions under both the First and the Second Amendments” and went on to praise the district court’s ruling against much of the law as “a thorough opinion.” It noted the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had issued “unreasoned summary stay orders” against the injunctions in Anyonyuk and several other cases involving the New York law before encouraging the plaintiffs to refile for emergency relief if the lower court drags its feet.
“Applicants should not be deterred by today’s order from again seeking relief if the Second Circuit does not, within a reasonable time, provide an explanation for its stay order or expedite consideration of the appeal,” Alito wrote.
In NAGR v. Naperville, none of the justices said anything about the district court’s decision to uphold the city’s ban on the sale of AR-15s and other popular firearms. That provides less insight into how the justices may feel about the case itself beyond agreeing not to get involved at this point.
NAGR did not respond to a request for comment on the Court’s denial.
UPDATE 5-17-2023 1:10 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated with additional background reporting on the Naperville ban and comment from NAGR and the city.