Federal appeals court voids win over ‘good cause’ requirement for D.C. carry permits

Federal appeals court undos win over ‘good cause’ requirement for D.C. carry permits

“We realize that we are undoing the work of litigation to date, but we have no choice,” wrote Chief Judge David B. Sentelle in vacating the ruling. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/The National Law Journal)

A unanimous three-judge panel found Tuesday that a district court judge sitting in New York should not have been assigned the case in which he ruled against Washington’s concealed carry permitting scheme.

This came as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit lifted an injunction issued in May barring Washington D.C. from applying its vague “good cause” test as part of its controversial may-issue gun licensing program that has declined more permits than it has granted.

The reason for this is that the judge in that case, Wrenn v D.C., U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin, had no jurisdiction to hear it.

“We realize that we are undoing the work of litigation to date, but we have no choice,” wrote Chief Judge David B. Sentelle, an appointment to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. “As the Supreme Court noted in Frad [Frad v. Kelly , 302 U.S. 312 (1937)], an order entered by a judge without jurisdiction is ‘null.’ ”

The other two panel judges, Cornelia T.L. Pillard and Laurence H. Silberman, appointments by Presidents Obama and George W. Bush respectively, backed Sentelle.

Scullin, of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York, was assigned by Chief Justice John Roberts in 2012 to rehear arguments in another challenge to D.C.’s ban on issuing concealed carry permits – the Palmer case – after the district court judge who originally heard the case, Judge Henry H. Kennedy, retired without issuing a ruling.

Scullin found the city’s policy unconstitutional last July in a ruling that led to the licensing program subsequently challenged in Wrenn earlier this year.

Since Scullin was given the case by the calendar committee of the district court and not by Roberts, the appeals court this week said his decision on it was void.

The case will now be reassigned, likely to a federal judge from the D.C. District.

“This decision is good news for public safety in the District of Columbia,” D.C. Attorney General Racine said in a statement. “This ruling increases the likelihood that the case will be heard before a judge from our community – something that we have argued is crucial to understanding the public-safety issues at stake. We believe our concealed-carry law is reasonable and in line with similar laws in New Jersey, New York and Maryland – all of which have been upheld as constitutional by three federal appeals courts.”

The Second Amendment Foundation, who brought the Wrenn case, is vowing to continue the legal fight against the city’s draconian gun laws.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” SAF Founder Alan Gottlieb told Guns.com Wednesday. “The Court should have dealt with the merits of the case. We now start over and one way or the other it will be back at the appeals court.”

Until then, it would appear the good cause requirement is back in the nation’s capital.