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Supreme Court rules in DC gun ban, campaign finance, energy contract cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down three decisions Thursday, including District of Columbia v. Heller [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], in which the Court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment [text] to the US Constitution prohibits the District of Columbia from banning private handgun ownership. The Court found that the Second Amendment bestows upon citizens an individual right to own firearms for lawful purposes:

There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited, just as the First Amendment's right of free speech was not, see, e.g., United States v. Williams, 553 US (2008). Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose.
This was the first time that the Supreme Court has directly addressed the Second Amendment since 1939's US v. Miller [case materials]. In September 2007, Washington DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and DC Attorney General Linda Singer [official profiles] formally appealed a March 2007 federal court ruling which invalidated the District of Columbia's handgun ban [JURIST reports]. Thursday's decision affirms the March DC Circuit holding [opinion, PDF] that the city's 30-year-old ban on private possession of handguns was unconstitutionally broad. Read the Court's opinion [PDF text] per Justice Scalia, a dissent filed by Justice Stevens, and a dissent [texts] filed by Justice Breyer. AP has more.

The Court also ruled 5-4 in Davis v. Federal Election Commission [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report] that the so-called millionaire's amendment [FEC backgrounder], part of a 2002 campaign finance law that allows political candidates to accept larger contributions from supporters if an opponent is able to finance his campaign with his own money, is unconstitutional. The exception was intended to ensure that independently wealthy candidates do not unfairly dominate elections. New York Democrat Jack Davis [campaign website] challenged the law, arguing that it violated his First Amendment rights. The Court agreed, holding:
There is, however, no constitutional basis for attacking contribution limits on the ground that they are too high. Congress has no constitutional obligation to limit contributions at all; and if Congress concludes that allowing contributions of a certain amount does not create an undue risk of corruption or the appearance of corruption, a candidate who wishes to restrict an opponent's fundraising cannot argue that the Constitution demands that contributions be regulated more strictly.
Thursday's decision reversed and remanded a DC Circuit ruling [opinion, PDF] that the law had not infringed on his right to free speech. Read the Court's opinion per Justice Alito, a concurrence in part and a dissent in part filed by Justice Stevens, and a concurrence in part and dissent in part [texts] filed by Justice Ginsburg.

In Morgan Stanley Capital Group Inc. v. Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court ruled 5-2 that a long-term contract made between an energy supplier and a local public utility during the Western energy crisis of 2000 and 2001 [FERC materials] was void. After prices normalized, the Public Utility sought to have the contracts voided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) [official website], arguing that the contract rates were unfairly influenced by outside market manipulation during the crisis. The FERC refused nullify the contracts, but on appeal, the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Public Utility [opinion, PDF], and remanded the case to FERC. Thursday's ruling affirms the Ninth Circuit ruling, finding that FERC's:
analysis was flawed or incomplete to the extent FERC looked simply to whether consumers' rates increased immediately upon conclusion of the relevant contracts, rather than determining whether the contracts imposed an excessive burden "down the line," relative to the rates consumers could have obtained (but for the contracts) after elimination of the dysfunctional market.
Read the Court's opinion per Justice Scalia, a dissent filed by Justice Stevens, and a concurrence [texts] filed by Justice Ginsburg. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Breyer did not participate in the decision.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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