EZELL v. CITY OF CHICAGO (July 6, 2011)
A few days after the Supreme Court found Chicago's handgun ban unconstitutional in McDonald, the Chicago City Council passed the Responsible Gun Owners Ordinance. Among other things, the ordinance required one hour of range training for gun ownership but prohibited firing ranges in the city. Several Chicago residents and three interested organizations brought suit, alleging that the range ban violates the Second Amendment. They sought a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction. Judge Kendall (N.D. Ill.) denied the TRO and held a hearing on the preliminary injunction. After hearing testimony, the court denied injunctive relief on the grounds that plaintiffs were not irreparably harmed and were not likely to succeed on the merits. The court also found the balance of harm to favor the City of Chicago. Plaintiffs appeal.
In their opinion, Judges Kanne, Rovner (concurring in the judgment), and Sykes reversed and remanded with instructions to enter the preliminary injunction. The Court first addressed irreparable injury and adequate remedy at law. It took issue with the district court's focus on the incidental travel burdens that the ordinance imposed. First, constitutional harm cannot be measured by considering whether the right can be exercised in another jurisdiction. Second, the challenge here is a facial challenge, where harm is not measured by reference to particular persons. Third, the Court compared Second Amendment interests to First Amendment interests, where irreparable harm is sometimes presumed. The Court turned to likelihood of success on the merits. Relying principally on Heller and McDonald, the Court described a framework for resolving Second Amendment litigation. The first question, which requires an historical inquiry, is whether the activity in question is even protected by the Second Amendment. For example, Heller pointed out that some restrictions might survive a challenge because the right at issue was not understood to be a public right at the time the Second (or Fourteenth) Amendment was ratified. The second inquiry is into the justification for the restriction -- the regulatory means and the public benefits end. The nature of the standard of review depends on how close the right is to the core of the Amendment and the severity of the burden imposed. The Court then applied the framework to Chicago's ordinance and first concluded that range training is not outside the protection of the Second Amendment. The "central component" of the Amendment -- the right to keep and bear arms -- would mean little without the right to train and practice. The court distinguished the eighteenth and nineteenth century statutes and regulations cited by Chicago as being merely regulatory or time, place, and manner restrictions. The Court proceeded to the second inquiry and used First Amendment jurisprudence to decide which form of heightened scrutiny was appropriate. It stated that a severe burden on a core right requires strong public interest justification and a close fit between means and the end. More modest burdens on less court rights need less justification. Here, the ordinance is a total ban on a right close to the core of the Second Amendment. The City must satisfy something more rigorous than intermediate scrutiny. The Court found that Chicago had failed to come close. All of its evidence with speculative or conclusory or could be countered with much less burdensome regulatory efforts. The Court concluded that the plaintiffs had a strong likelihood of success on the merits. For much the same reason, the Court concluded that the balance of harms favored the plaintiffs. It ordered that an appropriate injunction be entered on remand.
Judge Rovner wrote separately, concurring in the judgment. She pointed out that the right at issue was not all firearms training but was limited to live training at a firing range. Other types of training, including simulated training, are not at issue and may be enough to make the core right meaningful. She therefore did not agree that the right was as close to the core as the rest of the panel and that, as result, required more than intermediate scrutiny. She also found support in the eighteenth and nineteenth century regulations distinguished by the majority.