Judge Sykes strikes down Chicago shooting-range regulations

Two of the leading contenders for a Supreme Court nomination are Judge William Pryor (11th Circuit) and Judge Diane Sykes (7th Circuit). Of the two, I am more familiar with Judge Pryor because we backed him during the contentious fight over his nomination and because I met him at a conference on “originalism.”

I’m a fan.

Though I’ve never met Judge Sykes, I have followed her career on the federal bench (she served first on state courts). She has been a terrific, solidly conservative judge.

People I trust say she has a great personality which, at times, has helped her persuade other judges to adopt her positions. The fact that she won a statewide election for judge in then-bluish Wisconsin speaks to her political savvy and personable nature.

I’m a fan.

Earlier this week, Judge Sykes wrote an outstanding opinion in a Second Amendment case — Ezell v. City of Chicago. In that case, a 2-1 decision, the court struck down Chicago’s zoning requirements for shooting ranges and established a limited Second Amendment right for minors by striking down Chicago’s prohibition on minors entering shooting ranges.

Chicago had originally the city established a permit regime for lawful gun possession, required one hour of range training as a prerequiste for such a permit, and prohibited firing ranges everywhere in the city. This scheme was clever in a crude sort of way, but unsuccessful. The Seventh Circuit struck it down.

Chicago responded by replacing the range ban with an elaborate scheme of regulations governing shooting ranges. When the case challenging the city’s regulations reached the Seventh Circuit, the issues were (1) a zoning restriction allowing gun ranges only as special uses in manufacturing districts; (2) a zoning restriction prohibiting gun ranges within 100 feet of another range or within 500 feet of a residential distict, school, place of worship, and multiple other uses; and (3) a provision barring anyone under the age of 18 from entering a shooting range.

The effect of the first two restrictions was to all but bar shooting ranges. As Judge Sykes explained:

The two zoning regulations—the manufacturing-district classification and the distancing rule—dramatically limit the ability to site a shooting range within city limits. Under the combined effect of these two regulations, only 2.2% of the city’s total acreage is even theoretically available, and the commercial viability of any of these parcels is questionable—so much so that no shooting range yet exists.

This severely limits Chicagoans’ Second Amendment right to maintain proficiency in firearm use via target practice at a range. To justify these barriers, the City raised only speculative claims of harm to public health and safety. That’s not nearly enough to survive the heightened scrutiny that applies to burdens on Second Amendment rights.

(Emphasis added)

Judge Sykes concluded that “the age restriction also flunks heightened scrutiny.”

We held in Ezell I that the Second Amendment protects the right to learn and practice firearm use in the controlled setting of a shooting range. The City insists that no person under age 18 enjoys this right. That’s an extraordinarily broad claim, and the City failed to back it up.

Nor did the City adequately justify barring anyone under 18 from entering a range. To the contrary, its own witness on this subject agreed that the age restriction is overbroad because teenagers can safely be taught to shoot and youth firearm instruction is both prudent and can be conducted in a safe manner.

Judge Sykes’ opinion, the quality of which is consistent with the other of hers that I’ve read, recommends her for the most serious consideration for the Supreme Court.