Image: U.S. Supreme Court Justices
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Members of the Supreme Court pose for a "class photo" on September 29, 2009.
updated 9/30/2009 7:27:10 PM ET 2009-09-30T23:27:10

The Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to decide whether strict local and state gun control laws violate the Second Amendment, ensuring another high-profile battle over the rights of gun owners.

The high court's session starts on Monday, and the case will be argued next year.

The court said it will review a lower court ruling that upheld a handgun ban in Chicago. Gun rights supporters challenged gun laws in Chicago and some suburbs immediately following the high court's decision in June 2008 that struck down a handgun ban in the District of Columbia, a federal enclave.

The new case tests whether last year's ruling applies as well to local and state laws.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld ordinances barring the ownership of handguns in most cases in Chicago and suburban Oak Park, Ill.

Judge Frank Easterbrook, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, said that "the Constitution establishes a federal republic where local differences are to be cherished as elements of liberty rather than extirpated in order to produce a single, nationally applicable rule."

"Federalism is an older and more deeply rooted tradition than is a right to carry any particular kind of weapon," Easterbrook wrote.

Evaluating arguments over the extension of the Second Amendment is a job "for the justices rather than a court of appeals," he said.

The high court took his suggestion Wednesday.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then an appeals court judge, was part of a three-judge panel in New York that reached a similar conclusion in January.

Judges on both courts — Republican nominees in Chicago and Democratic nominees in New York — said only the Supreme Court could decide whether to extend last year's ruling throughout the country. Many, but not all, of the constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights have been applied to cities and states.

The New York ruling also has been challenged, but the court did not act on it Wednesday. Sotomayor would have to sit out any case involving decisions she was part of on the appeals court. Although the issue is the same in the Chicago case, there is no ethical bar to her participation in its consideration by the Supreme Court.

Several Republican senators cited the Sotomayor gun ruling, as well as her reticence on the topic at her confirmation hearing, in explaining their decision to oppose her confirmation to the high court.

The court also announced Wednesday several other cases it will consider in the upcoming session, including:

  • whether portions of a law that makes it a crime to provide "material support or resources" to designated terrorist groups are unconstitutional. The Obama administration appealed an appeals court ruling that declared parts of the law unconstitutionally vague. The law, frequently used by federal prosecutors since Sept. 11, bars financial and other aid to any group designated a terrorist organization. The individuals and groups that challenged the law argued that it prohibits aid to lawful, nonviolent activities of designated organizations. In this case, the groups work with the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
  • how far police can go in questioning suspects who say they understand their Miranda rights but don't immediately invoke them. When arrested for murder, Van Chester Thompkins did not ask for a lawyer or say he didn't want to talk to police after being read his Miranda rights. He confessed and was convicted. On appeal, however, he said his Miranda rights were violated. The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal in Cincinnati threw out his conviction, saying that since Thompkins did not waive or assert his Miranda rights, the questioning should have stopped.
  • whether sex offenders who didn't register with state officials before harsher punishments went into effect can still be sentenced to extra time in prison. The case involves an appeal from Thomas Carr, who pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in Alabama. When released from prison in 2004, he moved to Indiana but didn't register with that state's sexual offender database. The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which increased penalties for not registering, was not passed until 2006. But when Carr was arrested in 2007, he was charged using that law and sentenced to 37 months in prison. Carr appealed, saying prosecutors should not have used a law that wasn't in existence when he committed his crime. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said that when the law was passed, Congress did not say it did not apply retroactively. Other courts have said that the law — SORNA — cannot be applied retroactively, and Carr wants the high court to resolve the conflict.
  • whether to throw out a human rights lawsuit against a former prime minister of Somalia who is accused of overseeing killings and other atrocities. The court will review an appeals court ruling allowing Somalis to sue Mohamed Ali Samantar of Fairfax, Va., who was defense minister and prime minister of Somalia in the 1980s and early 1990s under dictator Siad Barre. The lawsuit alleges that Samantar was responsible for killings, rapes and torture, including waterboarding, of his own people while in power, particularly against disfavored clans. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 at federal court in Alexandria under the Torture Victim Protection Act. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema tossed out the case in 2007, ruling that Samantar was entitled to immunity under a separate U.S. law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. But the appellate court ruled that the law does not extend immunity to individuals, only to foreign states themselves and their agencies. The high court will consider whether Samantar is immune from the lawsuit. The case will be argued early next year.

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Video: Supreme Court hears handgun ban case

  1. Closed captioning of: Supreme Court hears handgun ban case

    >>> patch.

    >>> the new supreme court term hasn't started yet, yet the court announced they are going to take a case and decide whether state and local laws outlawing guns violate the second amendment of the constitution. pete williams is outside the court tonight with more on this. pete, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, just a year ago, the court said the second amendment guarantees the right to keep a gun at home for self- self-defense here in washington , d.c. now, the question is, does the same right apply nationwide. the court agreed to take up a challenge brought by residents of chicago who oppose that cities ban on handguns. the court ruled down an equally strict handgun in washington , d.c. ruling it violated the second amendment to bear arms. it prevented washington from banning the self-defense at home. the court 's ruling was limited saying it was a protection against restriction on gun ownership . the district of columbia is a federal city . they are hoping the court will use the chicago case to approve the second amendment right nationwide.

    >> i think they are going to say it's a freedom to be enjoyed by the entire american people .

    >> reporter: if the court says the second amendment prevents cities and states from banning handguns, it would endanger new york city . it would certainly invite challen challenges to other laws limited firearms like state laws or having guns outside the home or carrying concealed weapons. it would not automatically mean the end to those laws.

    >> even if the court applies the second amendment, we do not believe it will jeopardize sensible gun laws .

    >> reporter: with the calendar already filling up, they will hear this case early next month.

    >> a caution for those who

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