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WASHINGTON � Winners in lower appellate courts generally are not thrilled when the U.S. Supreme Court grants review to their opponents. But a trio of lawyers who successfully challenged a District of Columbia gun-control law voiced elation and excitement when the high court took that case to consider, for the first time in nearly seven decades, the meaning of the Second Amendment. Both sides in District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, had urged the justices to grant review. For the district, which filed the petition, it is an attempt to salvage its ban on handguns, calling them a “particularly serious threat to public safety.” But for the libertarian legal trio, representing Washington resident Dick Heller, it is the culmination of a four-year odyssey to get answers to one of the most contentious constitutional debates. In granting review on Nov. 20, the justices rejected the question posed by the district, which would have narrowed the scope of the case to handguns. Instead, they reframed the question in a way that asks whether the district law violates the Second Amendment rights of individuals who wish to keep handguns and other firearms in their homes. “We’re most pleased with the question because it gets at the guts of the issue,” said Robert A. Levy, one of Heller’s three attorneys. Levy, a former software company CEO, is senior fellow in constitutional studies and a member of the board of directors at the Cato Institute. He came to the law late, he said, and after 25 years in business. As part of his legal education, Levy, along with a young lawyer named Clark Neily, clerked for a D.C. federal district judge. Neily later spent four years as a litigator at Dallas’ Thompson & Knight and in 2000 joined Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice. Neily is a senior attorney at the Institute and heads its school choice team. Levy also sits on the institute’s board. The gun challenge is a pro bono, “personal endeavor” for both men, separate from their work at Cato and the institute, according to Levy. Three events, he said, convinced them that the time was right for a Second Amendment challenge. “There was an outpouring of scholarship, particularly from liberals like [Laurence] Tribe, [Akhil Reed] Amar, [Sanford] Levinson, that reaffirmed the Second Amendment does secure an individual right and is not limited to militia members,” he said. There also was a 2001 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he said, the first federal appellate court to hold there was an individual right, but which was not used to strike down the federal gun-control law at issue. U.S. v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203, 215-17 (5th Cir. 2001). And, third, the U.S. Department of Justice, for the first time, took the position in court that the Second Amendment secured an individual right. The district offered the “perfect” case, said Levy: It had the worst crime statistics and the most restrictive gun regulation. Levy and Neily hired Alan Gura of Washington’s Gura & Possessky, a former California deputy attorney general and later an attorney with Sidley Austin, to be lead counsel in their challenge. Gura, he said, had done some work for Cato. “In the libertarian movement, you can get us lawyers together in a phone booth,” Levy chuckled. The district is represented by its attorney general, Linda Singer, and she has brought on board Alan Morrison of Stanford Law School, Thomas Goldstein of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Walter Dellinger of O’Melveny & Myers. O’Melveny partner Mark Davies, one of the lead attorneys on Dellinger’s team, said they were “happy” with the high court’s grant. “The main thing we care about is the [handgun] ban and now the court will review that,” he said.

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