The Seventh Circuit’s December 11, 2012, opinion in Moore v. Madigan ended with a bang: an order prohibiting prosecution of defendants on charges based on two Illinois gun laws. That order, or injunction, was postponed for 180, giving the State legislature time to write a new gun law that would pass Constitutional muster. After two extensions, that deadline was extended to July 9th, 2013. The two gun laws, Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon, prohibited concealed and open carriage of firearms outside gun owners’ homes. With some exceptions for hunters, law enforcement agents,and gun club members, this meant that people could own guns, but had to keep them at home or in their fixed place of business. With those laws in effect,Illinois was the only State in the country that had a blanket ban on gun possession outside the home. However, two important United States Supreme Court cases set the stage for Constitutional challenges of Illinois’ gun laws.
First, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a District of Columbia law that prohibited people from possessing firearms in their own homes unless they were kept unloaded and disassembled, or were locked with a trigger lock. The Supreme Court held that the right to keep and bear arms for reasons such as self defense was a fundamental right, protected by the 2nd Amendment. The D.C. statute unreasonably restricted people from exercising that right. The Court held that the Federal government may not pass laws that infringe on that right. Because the District of Columbia is a federal district, and not a State, the Court did not address whether the 2nd Amendment right extended to States.
The Supreme Court, however, addressed this issue in McDonald v. City of Chicago and held that the 2nd amendment applies to States- meaning that States cannot pass laws that unreasonably restrict the 2nd Amendment right. In McDonald, the Court looked at several Chicago ordinances that restricted and prohibited people from possessing firearms at home. The Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates fundamental rights, so States cannot pass laws that infringe on those rights. As a result, Chicago’s long-time ban on handguns in the City was struck down.
The Seventh Circuit’s decision in Moore v. Madigan built on those two cases when it considered Illinois’ laws banning possessing firearms outside of a gun owner’s home. The court held that a blanket ban on possession of firearms infringed people’s fundamental right to bear arms, as recognized in Heller and McDonald. While the two Supreme Court cases only addressed laws that prohibited gun possession at home, the Seventh Circuit said that the right to bear arms for self defense logically must extend outside of people’s homes because that is where they are more likely to need to protect themselves. As a result, the Seventh Circuit declared the two Illinois’ laws unconstitutional and ordered an injunction that prohibited enforcement of them. That injunction, however, would not ultimately take force until July 9, 2013.
Effects in State Court
Before the injunction took force, many judges denied defendants’ motions to dismiss gun charges, stating that decisions of Federal courts are not binding on State court proceedings. To support that decision, in March 2013, the 1st District Court of Appeals in Illinois decided People v. Tamar Moore, which expressly disagrees with the Seventh Circuit’s holding. After Tamar Moore, Illinois judges were bound by the Illinois Appellate Court’s ruling and could continue prosecuting people for violations of Illinois’ gun laws.
On July 9th, things changed when the Illinois Legislature passed a new gun law for Illinois and the injunction from the Seventh Circuit took effect. The new law legalized concealed carry in Illinois and the injunction prohibits enforcement of the old laws. The question is, how will Illinois judges respond when presented an injunction from federal court?
On Thursday, an Illinois Circuit Court judge had a scheduled hearing of five defendants’ motions to dismiss gun charges. The defendants were all seeking to have their charges dismissed in the wake of the Seventh Circuit’s decision. Many of these motions have been pending for months, but after the 9th, when the injunction took force,the defendants had more to hang their hats on. At the motion hearing, defense lawyers argued that Illinois judges had no choice but to obey the federal court’s injunction, whether they agreed with the court’s reasoning or not. Lawyers for the defense cited People v. Nance, an Illinois Supreme Court case that held that State courts are not bound by decisions in Federal courts, but are bound by injunctions issued by them. In addition, the injunction stays in effect until lifted by the court that issued it. The judge expressed concern about following the injunction versus following Tamar Moore. Following the injunction, he stated, would require him to ignore Tamar Moore, which is binding precedent on the lower State courts.
Clearly, this is not a decision that Circuit Court judges often have to make. Given the recency of the passage of the new laws and the injunction, it is not surprising that judges are not prepared to deal with rare issues of law without having the benefit of seeing how others deal with it. Indeed, during the hearing, the judge asked all the attorneys present if they were aware of any other judges at 26th st who have dismissed gun charges because of the injunction. Instead of ruling on the motions, he took the matter under advisement and requested that all parties appear back in front of him in August.