McDonald v. Chicago

McDonald v. Chicago
McDonald v. Chicago
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued March 2, 2010
Decided June 28, 2010
Full case name Otis McDonald, et al. v. City of Chicago, Illinois, et al.
Docket nos. 08-1521
Citations 561 U. S. 3025 (2010)
Prior history Judgment for defendants, 617 F. Supp. 2d 752 (ND Ill. 2008), affirmed, 567 F. 3d 856 (CA7), cert. granted, 557 U. S. ___ (2009)
Argument Oral argument
The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self defense in one's home is fully applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Alito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy (all); Thomas (all except parts II-C, IV and V)
Concurrence Scalia
Concurrence Thomas
Dissent Stevens
Dissent Breyer, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. II, XIV

McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (2010), was a landmark[1] decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that determined whether the Second Amendment applies to the individual states. The Court held that the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states. The decision cleared up the uncertainty left in the wake of District of Columbia v. Heller as to the scope of gun rights in regard to the states.

On June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit's decision in McDonald v. Chicago and remanded it back to Seventh Circuit to resolve conflicts between certain Chicago gun restrictions and the Second Amendment. The Court of Appeals had upheld a Chicago ordinance banning the possession of handguns as well as other gun regulations affecting rifles and shotguns, citing United States v. Cruikshank, Presser v. Illinois, and Miller v. Texas.[2] The petition for certiorari was filed by Alan Gura, the attorney who had successfully argued Heller, and Chicago-area attorney David G. Sigale.[3] The Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association sponsored the litigation on behalf of several Chicago residents, including retiree Otis McDonald.[4]

The Second Oral argument took place on March 2, 2010.[5][6] On June 28, 2010, in a 5-4 decision, the High Court held that the Second Amendment was incorporated under the Fourteenth Amendment, protecting those rights from local governments.[7]


McDonald v. Chicago as compared to NRA v. Chicago

Despite being consolidated at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, the cases are different in scope in terms of the specific regulations challenged and the legal argument for applying the Second Amendment against state and local governments. The cases were appealed separately to the U.S. Supreme Court.[8]

Regulations challenged

The NRA case is focused on the fact that Chicago's gun registration laws do not allow the registration of handguns. In the District of Columbia v. Heller, "The Court also recognized a distinction between weapons "in common use at the time" and weapons that were considered dangerous and unusual..."[9]

McDonald challenges four broad aspects of Chicago's gun registration law, which, according to the plaintiffs:[10]

  • Prohibit the registration of handguns, thus effecting a broad handgun ban
  • Require that guns be registered prior to their acquisition by Chicago residents, which is not always feasible
  • Mandate that guns be re-registered annually, with another payment of the fee
  • Render any gun permanently non-registrable if its registration lapses

Legal basis for incorporation

All of the post-Heller cases, including McDonald, NRA v. Chicago, Nordyke and Maloney, argued that the Second Amendment, in addition to applying to federal jurisdictions, should also be applied against state and local governments, using a judicial process called selective incorporation. Selective incorporation involves convincing the court that a right is "fundamental" by being “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” or “deeply rooted in our nation’s history and traditions” as defined most recently in the Supreme Court case Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968).

In addition to claiming the Second Amendment should be incorporated through the selective incorporation process, McDonald is unique among post-Heller gun cases in that it asked the court to overturn the Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873). Slaughter-House determined that the 14th Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause did not apply the Bill of Rights to the actions of states (and by extension, local governments). If it had been overturned, the Selective Incorporation process may have become unnecessary, since the entire Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment, would arguably be applied against the states.[11] [12]

In attempting to overturn Slaughter-House, this case garnered the attention and support of both conservative and liberal legal scholars interested in its potential application in areas outside of firearms law. Their interest was that if Slaughter-House had been overturned, it would have been possible that constitutional guarantees such as the right to a jury in civil cases, right to a grand jury in felony cases, and other parts of the Bill of Rights, as well as future court rulings and existing federal precedent, not universally guaranteed in actions by the states, would have been applied against the states automatically.[13][14][15]

In his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas alone supported overturning the Slaughter-House and Cruikshank decisions,[16] proposing that "the right to keep and bear arms is a privilege of American citizenship that applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause."[17]

Amici curiae

Thirty-three amici curiae ("friends of the court") briefs for this case were filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Court.[18]

One of these briefs was filed by U.S. senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R, TX) and Jon Tester (D, MT) and U.S. representatives Mark Souder (R, IN) and Mike Ross (D, AR) asking the Supreme Court to find in favor of the petitioners and rule that the Second Amendment does apply to the states.[19] The brief was signed by 58 senators and 251 representatives, more members of Congress than any amicus curiae brief in history.[20] Furthermore, thirty-two states under the aegis of Texas (and California independently) also filed amici curiae.[clarification needed][21]


In a plurality decision, Justice Alito concluded "that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller."[22] Writing a concurring opinion, Justice Thomas reached the same conclusion regarding the incorporation issue on different grounds: Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[23] The plurality decision also re-affirmed that certain firearms restrictions mentioned in District of Columbia v. Heller are assumed permissible and not directly dealt with in this case.[24] Such restrictions include those "prohibit[ing]...the possession of firearms by felons or mentally ill," and "laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms" [25]


Justice Stevens wrote a lengthy dissenting opinion. Among his disagreements with the majority was the statement that incorporation was not at issue in this case. Citing Cruikshank, Stevens wrote, "The so-called incorporation question was squarely and, in my view, correctly resolved in the late 19th century." In addition, he argues against incorporation, taking issue with the methodology of the majority opinions.

Justice Breyers' dissent states, "In sum, the Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self defense. There has been, and is, no consensus that the right is, or was, “fundamental.” This statement is somewhat contradictory to the Heller decision.


The initial reactions of the Court's ruling were favorable from both the National Rifle Association[26] and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.[27] Both issued statements to the public that they feel were vindicated by the Court's holding. However, the court did not include a "clarification of the standard for review" as requested by the Brady group in their amicus brief.[28] In a discussion on the day of the ruling Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and Paul Helmke of the Brady Center both agreed that the Court's ruling protected specifically against bans on handguns for self protection in the home. But as to the general question of gun laws not covered in McDonald; a large number of lawsuits are needed in order to determine whether any other existing gun regulations might also be unconstitutional. Wayne LaPierre expressed caution that the NRA has "a lot of work ahead" attempting to overturn other gun control regulations not covered by McDonald, and Paul Helmke said that he expected that the NRA is "going to lose most of those lawsuits".[29]

Related cases

The day after Heller was filed the National Rifle Association filed five similar lawsuits challenging local gun bans:

Other notable post-Heller Second Amendment court cases:

  • Nordyke v. King, 563 F.3d 493 (9th. Cir. 2009) Held that the 2nd Amendment did apply to the states in the Ninth Circuit, though the ruling was vacated for en banc reconsideration, and the Alameda County, California prohibition of firearms on county property remained constitutional until overturned by McDonald v. Chicago.
  • Maloney v. Rice (a.k.a. Maloney v. Cuomo and Maloney v. Spitzer), 554 F.3d 56 (2d. Cir. 2009) Held that the 2nd Amendment does not apply to the states in the Second Circuit. The case involved a state ban on Nunchaku sticks (a martial arts weapon). In a memorandum opinion dated June 29, 2010, the Supreme Court vacated the Second Circuit decision in Maloney and remanded for further consideration in light of McDonald's holding that the Second Amendment does apply to the states.
  • State of Washington v. Sieyes The Washington Supreme Court held that the 2nd Amendment is incorporated and applies to Washington State, via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Superseded by, but consistent with, McDonald.
  • The Commonwealth V. Runyan, 456 Mass. 230 (2010) The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that Heller did not apply to the Massachusetts state legislature and that the gun locks ordered under Massachusetts law are different from those regulated in Heller. Partially overturned by McDonald; The decisions made in Heller do apply to the State of Massachusetts (as with all States), but the gun lock requisite under MA law may indeed differ enough from D.C.'s statute to be found constitutional.

In Ezell v. Chicago, decided July 6, 2011, the Seventh Circuit reversed a district court decision that the post-McDonald measures adopted by the City of Chicago were constitutional. The Chicago law required firearms training in a shooting range in order to obtain a gun permit, but also banned shooting ranges within the City of Chicago. The City had argued that applicants could obtain their training at gun ranges in the suburbs. The opinion noted that Chicago could not infringe Second Amendment rights on the grounds that they could be exercised elsewhere, any more than it could infringe the right to freedom of speech on the grounds that citizens could speak elsewhere.

See also


  1. ^ "In McDonald v. Chicago case, another Supreme Court landmark ruling on guns?". The Christian Science Monitor. 2010-03-01. 
  2. ^ National Rifle Ass'n of Amer., Inc. v. City of Chicago, 567 F.3d 856, 857 (7th Cir. 2009)
  3. ^ Taff, Mark. "SAF Files Lawsuit Challenging Chicago’s Handgun Ban". Retrieved July 6, 2009. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Miller, Erin (March 2, 2010). "Podcasts: McDonald v. City of Chicago". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved March 2, 2010. 
  6. ^ Liptak, Adam (March 2, 2010). "Supreme Court Still Divided on Guns". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Mears, Bill (June 28, 2009). "Court rules for gun rights, strikes down Chicago handgun ban". CNN. 
  8. ^ "A new Second Amendment case". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved July 4, 2009. [dead link]
  9. ^
  10. ^ " » FAQs". Retrieved July 6, 2009. 
  11. ^ "[T]he words 'No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States' seems to me an eminently reasonable way of expressing the idea that henceforth the Bill of Rights shall apply to the States." Erwin Chemerinsky et al., Constitutional Law § 6.3.2 (3d ed. 2006) (quoting Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 166 (1968) (Black, dissenting))
  12. ^ More precisely, the Privileges or Immunities Clause would incorporate the first eight amendments of the Bill of Rights; since the 9th and 10th Amendments refer to the unenumerated rights of individuals and reserved powers of the states respectively, their incorporation, at least for the 10th Amendment, would be paradoxical or meaningless.
  13. ^ "Liberals Use Supreme Court Gun Case to Bolster Other Rights". Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Constitutional Accountability Center filed brief in NRA v. Chicago". Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Brief for Constitutional Law Professors as Amici Curiae". Retrieved June 29, 2010. 
  16. ^ slip op., at 52-54 (Thomas, J., concurring)
  17. ^ slip op., at 1 (Thomas, J., concurring)
  18. ^ "Merit Briefs for February Supreme Court Cases, Term 2009-2010". American Bar Association. Retrieved June 29, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Brief for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson et al. as Amici Curiae". Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
  20. ^ Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson press release, November 23, 2009
  21. ^
  22. ^ McDonald, at ___-___ (slip op., at 44)
  23. ^ SCOTUS blog
  24. ^ McDonald, at ___-___ (slip op., at 39-40)
  25. ^ McDonald, at ___-___ (slip op., at 39-40)
  26. ^ "Statement by Wayne LaPierre Executive Vice President, NRA and Chris W. Cox Executive Director, NRA-ILA Regarding U.S. Supreme Court Decision McDonald v. City of Chicago". Retrieved June 25, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Media". Retrieved June 25, 2010. 
  28. ^ "Brief for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence et al. as Amici Curiae". Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
  29. ^ "After Supreme Court Ruling, Cities Face Restructuring of Gun Laws". Interviewer: Gwen Ifill. NewsHour. PBS. June 28, 2010.
  30. ^ "NRA Eyes More Targets After D.C. Gun-Ban Win". (NPR). Retrieved July 6, 2009. 

External links

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