On August 14, 2012, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois awarded over 1.3 million dollars to the National Rifle Association (NRA) to reimburse it for attorneys’ fees for the legal work NRA’s lawyers did in the cases of National Rifle Association v. City of Chicago and National Rifle Association v. Village of Oak Park, and for its role and significant work as a party in the Supreme Court case McDonald v. City of Chicago. The checks are in! A copy of the $663,294.10 check from the Village of Oak Park can be viewed here. A copy of the $663,294.10 check from the City of Chicago can be view here.
The filings in these three cases can be viewed by clicking on the respective case name. These three cases were all filed shortly after the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court decision was issued. That decision struck down a Washington D.C. law banning handgun possession, and recognized an individual right to self-defense and to keep and bear arms. These cases were designed to get the Supreme Court to resolve the issue of whether the Second Amendment, in addition to prohibiting federal government infringement, also prohibited state and local governments from infringing on the right to keep and bear arms. In the McDonald decision, the Supreme Court extended the Second Amendment’s protections to the state and local government level, just as self-defense civil rights advocates had hoped it would.
When the McDonald case, financed in large part by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), was accepted by the Supreme Court, the NRA was deemed a party to the McDonald case under Supreme Court Rule 12.6 by virtue of its role as a party in the two consolidated Chicago and Oak Park cases. As a full-fledged party in the McDonald case, the NRA filed its own legal briefs to persuade the Supreme Court Justices of the NRA’s position. Multiple other non-party groups also weighed in on the case through amicus briefs, including the CRPA Foundation. Lawyer Alan Gura argued for Mr. McDonald. Former Solicitor General Paul Clement argued on behalf of the NRA before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s McDonald decision held that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment and thus, fully applicable to the States. In the wake of the ruling, the Supreme Court remanded the McDonald case, as well as the two NRA cases, back to the Court of Appeal to address the City of Chicago’s and the Village of Oak Park’s unconstitutional handgun bans. But before an injunction could be issued by the lower courts, both Chicago and Oak Park repealed their handguns bans. The City of Chicago replaced its repealed ban with another ordinance which allows Chicago residents to lawfully possess handguns in their homes if they obtain a valid Chicago Firearms Permit and register each handgun. This new law is currently being challenged in a new lawsuit.
Because the challenged ordinances were repealed, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not need to address the injunction issue. Instead, it vacated the original rulings of the U.S. District Court (which had granted the City of Chicago’s motions for judgment on the pleadings against McDonald and the NRA), and then sent all three cases back to the District Court with instructions to dismiss the cases as moot (because the ordinances were repealed).
But the Seventh Circuit Court also instructed that “[i]f plaintiffs [both McDonald and NRA] believe that the repeals [of the ordinances] entitled them to attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, they may file appropriate motions in the district court.”
All plaintiffs filed those attorney fee recovery motions in the District Court. In opposing the attorney fee motions, Chicago and Oak Park argued that because the ordinances were repealed before an injunction or judgment could be entered, the plaintiffs in all three cases were not “prevailing parties” and therefore were not entitled to recover attorneys’ fees. On that basis, the District Court denied all plaintiffs their attorneys’ fees.
The parties again appealed and went back up to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the District Court’s ruling on plaintiffs’ entitlement to recover fees. The Court of Appeals recognized that the NRA was indeed a prevailing party in each of the three cases, including the McDonald case in the Supreme Court, and that the NRA was entitled to recover its attorneys’ fees for all the work its lawyers did, including work in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Finally, in June 2011 the cases were once again all sent back to the U.S. District Court to calculate the amount of the fee awards.
In September 2011, the SAF lawyers resolved their attorneys’ fees claims for work on the McDonald case for slightly less than $400,000.00.
NRA, on the other hand, continued to litigate the fees issue. Referencing the value of NRA’s contribution to the McDonald case when it reevaluated NRA’s fee request, the U.S. District Court recognized in June 2012 that the McDonald / SAF attorneys and NRA’s attorneys “took different approaches to their respective cases: McDonald said that the Second Amendment applies to the states by virtue of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, while NRA said it applied by virtue of the doctrine of substantive due process.” The Supreme Court’s McDonald decision adopted the substantive Due Process approach. McDonald’s lawyers argued the Due Process approach as a back-up to their Privileges or Immunities clause argument. However, the Privileges or Immunities argument was ridiculed by Justice Scalia and the majority of other Supreme Court Justices during oral argument.
NRA has now recovered fees in excess of 1.3 million dollars. So for losing the cases, Chicago and the other cities involved paid a total of over 1.7 million dollars to firearms civil rights groups.
In September 2012, the NRA filed another Motion for Supplemental Attorneys’ Fees. By that motion, the NRA is now seeking attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred in litigating its original motion for attorneys’ fees. Because these fees and expenses were not included in the amount of the August fee award, Chicago and Oak Park will most likely be writing more checks to the NRA!
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