By Robert Barnes: Washington Post Staff Writer
"It is very rare that the justices write on a clean slate," she said. "In some ways, it gives them great freedom."
The Supreme Court's endorsement of an individual right would be a monumental change in federal jurisprudence, but perhaps not surprising. Even a small but growing group of liberal constitutional scholars -- "against my political instincts," in the words of Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe -- have endorsed the individual-right view.
But even fundamental rights are subject to government restrictions, and whether the justices are ready to decide on the reasonableness of the District's ban could be the crucial question of the case.
"If adopted by this court," Solicitor General Paul D. Clement wrote in the government's brief, "such an analysis could cast doubt on the constitutionality of existing federal legislation prohibiting the possession of certain firearms, including machineguns."
The challengers have received a broad array of political support, signs of the strength of the gun rights movement: More than 31 states and a majority of the House and Senate have signed friend-of-the-court briefs.
Levy said the next targets will be handgun laws in Chicago and New York City, although the court has never held that the Second Amendment is applicable to states. And one legal theory is that the provision is a restriction only against the federal government.
Tribe, whose support of the individual right is often cited by gun rights supporters, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal recently that said the District's law could still be upheld and urged the court to decide the case narrowly.