(CN) – Accusing their Democratic colleagues of making a not-so-thinly veiled threat, Senate Republicans took the unusual step Thursday of writing a letter to the Supreme Court about a gun-rights case being appealed from New York.
“Our colleagues did more than raise legal arguments in favor of mootness,” the letter states, with signatures from 53 Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “They openly threatened this court with political retribution if it failed to dismiss the petition as moot. … The implication is as plain as day: Dismiss this case, or we’ll pack the court.”
Addressed to the Supreme Court clerk Scott Harris, Thursday’s letter comes after five Democrats led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse filed an amicus brief in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York.
Granted certiorari this past January, the case represents a challenge to firearm-transportation rules in New York City that effectively licensed gun owners from taking their weapons outside their houses except to an authorized shooting range.
The National Rifle Association is seeking a reversal after the Second Circuit upheld the rules in 2018, but Senator Whitehouse and his colleagues told the court in an Aug. 12 brief that the appeal should be thrown out as moot.
“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it,” the Democrats’ brief states. “Perhaps the court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’ Particularly on the urgent issue of gun control, a nation desperately needs it to heal.”
In their letter Thursday, Republicans called the brief proof positive that “judicial independence is under assault.”
“The [NRA] association has asked this court to consider the constitutionality of a law that it believes infringes on the fundamental constitutional rights of ordinary New Yorkers,” the letter states. “Democrats have responded by threatening to pack the court if it decides in favor of the Association. Americans cannot trust that their constitutional rights are secure if they know that Democrats will try to browbeat this Court into ruling against those rights.”
The Whitehouse brief also devotes many pages to what Democrats say are the politics, money and undue influence shaping the Supreme Court. They cited the NRA’s million-dollar ad campaign during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings, which told people their right to self-defense depended on the confirmation vote.
“Indeed, petitioners and their allies have made perfectly clear that they seek a partner in a ‘project’ to expand the Second Amendment and thwart gun safety regulations,” the 25-page brief states. “Particularly in an environment where a growing majority of Americans believes this court is ‘motivated mainly by politics,’ rather than by adherence to the law, the court should resist petitioners’ invitation.”
A Quinnipiac poll that determined a majority of Americans believe the court should be restructured is cited in the Democrats’ brief as well.
The Republicans meanwhile closed their letter with a reference to the court’s liberal stalwart, writing that they “share Justice Ginsburg’s view that ‘nine seems to be a good number.’”
“And it will remain that way as long as we are here,” the letter concludes.