When Alan Morrison left D.C. for the left-coast pace of Stanford Law School in 2004, he saw little prospect of adding to the 16 cases he had argued before the Supreme Court during his career at the Ralph Nader-created Public Citizen Litigation Group. Even this summer when Morrison decided to return to the district as a special counsel to D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer, he thought he'd be working on local legal problems, not strategizing litigation before the high court.
But on Tuesday, Singer confirmed that if the Supreme Court grants review in the city's defense of its 31-year-old handgun ban, Morrison will argue the case for the city. "He's taken that trip a few times," she says. Morrison insists "It's not something I had on my radar screen" when he decided to come back to D.C.
With Morrison and Solicitor General Todd Kim on the inside, Singer's team has a couple of outside Supreme Court veterans assisting: Akin Gump's Thomas Goldstein and O'Melveny & Myers' Walter Dellinger, the former acting solicitor general, are helping on a pro bono basis, Singer says. "They are among the top Supreme Court advocates in the country," says Singer, adding that "our [in-house] team has taken the laboring oar."
The city filed its petition Tuesday in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, asking the high court to overturn the March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit striking down the city's handgun ban on Second Amendment grounds.
The ruling, written by conservative senior judge Laurence Silberman, "wears the trappings of a bona fide legal theory, but it distorts both the words of the amendment and the plain intent of the founders," according to the petition. The city offers arguments aimed at making it palatable for the Court's conservatives to uphold the ban noting, for example, that the city allows possession of rifles and shotguns. It also makes a federalism argument, asserting that the Second Amendment targets only federal interference with state militias -- and therefore has no effect on the D.C. ban.
Singer calls the city's arguments "very textual" ones that would appeal to any justice who wants to honor the words of the Second Amendment. She sounds confident that victory is within reach. "If we didn't think we could win, we would not have taken it up."