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Disaster in D.C.: ‘May Issue’ Carry Rules Are Back

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The Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals has undone years of litigation, finding a temporarily assigned visiting judge should not have heard the case of Wrenn v. District of Columbia regarding the right of citizens to carry handguns.

The judge had ruled unconstitutional the District’s requirement that applicants for a D.C. carry license provide “good reason.” The D.C. Circuit has vacated the order, meaning the District’s tough “may issue” standard is back in place.

From the decision: 

Although the parties fully briefed the case on the merits, we will not reach the substantive issues raised in their original submissions, as we must dispose of the matter on jurisdictional grounds. The controlling fact in this case is the identity of the judge who decided it in the district court – The Honorable Senior United States District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., of the Northern District of New York. The difficulty in this case is evident from the office of the deciding judge. Judge Scullin is a Judge of the Northern District of New York, not of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Under the Constitution and the statutes, the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints a judge to the district court of a particular district, where he exercises the jurisdiction of the court.

It is possible for a district judge, including a senior judge, to lawfully adjudicate matters in another district. However, in order for a judge to exercise this judicial authority in a district located outside the circuit of his home district, the judge must be “designated and assigned by the Chief Justice….”

From page 4 of the decision:

The error in this case is quite understandable. The calendar committee of the district court assigned the matter to Judge Scullin because it deemed the case to be related to another case over which Judge Scullin presided. The difficulty is, while the earlier case was within the Chief Justice’s designation, the present one is not.

Although we are satisfied the statutes clearly determine on their face that Judge Scullin had no authority to decide this matter, there is also clear precedent compelling that result.

From page 5:

We realize that we are undoing the work of litigation to date, but we have no choice. As the Supreme Court noted inFrad, an order entered by a judge without jurisdiction is “null.” Of course in Frad, the Supreme Court caused the undoing of litigation which had gone far beyond the stage we address today.

We have no choice but to vacate the order entered, as it was beyond the jurisdiction of the issuing judge. So ordered.

See our previous coverage of the decision here.

*Article by W. Todd Woodard

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