The Supreme Court issued orders from its November 21 conference today. The justices did not add any new cases to their merits docket for the term, but they did deny review in several high-profile cases.
Perhaps the most noteworthy denials came in two cases involving gun rights: Kolbe v. Hogan, a challenge to Maryland’s ban on semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines, passed in the wake of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school; and Norman v. Florida, a challenge to the state’s ban on the open carrying of guns in public. In both cases, the lower courts had upheld the states’ bans, so today’s rulings leave those decisions in place. Unlike last June, when Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented from the court’s denial of review in Peruta v. California, in which the justices had been asked to decide whether the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense, today’s denials were not accompanied by any public comments from the justices.
Thomas did, however, dissent today from the denial of review in two cases, Upstate Citizens v. United States and Town of Vernon v. United States, that had challenged a decision by the Secretary of the Interior to take land owned by the Oneida tribe into trust, which limited the extent to which state and local governments could levy taxes and regulate activities on the land. The lower court ruled against the challengers, and today the justices declined to weigh in. Thomas was sharply critical of that decision, writing that the Supreme Court’s precedents have given Congress “the power to take any state land and strip the State of almost all sovereign power over it ‘for the purpose of providing land for Indians.’” “This means,” Thomas continued, that “Congress could reduce a State to near nonexistence by taking all land within its borders and declaring it sovereign Indian territory.” When the court’s cases “permit such an absurd result,” Thomas concluded, “something has gone seriously awry.”
The justices also declined to add the often-controversial topic of prayer in public places to their docket for the term. Today they denied review in American Humanist Association v. Birdville Independent School District, in which they had been asked to decide whether the Constitution is violated when a school-board meetings attended by students include a prayer.
The justices will meet for their next private conference on December 1.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.