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Supreme Court sidesteps new cases on gun rights, police protections

The Supreme Court on Monday sidestepped two hot-button issues by declining to take up cases next term involving Second Amendment rights and legal protections for police officers.

The justices chose not to add nearly a dozen new gun-rights disputes, including over the right to carry a firearm in public, and declined opportunities to revisit the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, which generally shields government employees from being held liable for alleged wrongdoing.

The results mean fewer than four justices agreed to take up the cases next term, which begins in October.

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Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - One week out, where the Trump, Biden race stands Justice Barrett's baptism by fire: Protecting the integrity of elections The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE, one of the court’s most staunch conservatives, dissented from the court’s decision to deny the reviews. He was joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Justice Barrett's baptism by fire: Protecting the integrity of elections Barrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice by Thomas MORE in dissenting from the denial of a new Second Amendment dispute.

Earlier this term, the court avoided issuing a major ruling on the constitutionality of a New York City handgun regulation, with the justices writing in an unsigned opinion that the city’s repeal of a controversial restrictions rendered the legal challenge moot.

But in a 31-page dissent, three conservative justices said the case should not have been dismissed. They expressed concerns that the court’s prior Second Amendment rulings were being applied incorrectly by lower courts.

In a landmark 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the court said the Second Amendment enshrines an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. The court decided two years later that right applies at both the federal and state levels.

But the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision in the Heller case left key questions unanswered about the scope of the Second Amendment and how courts should determine when those rights were infringed, leaving it to lower courts to fill the gap over the past decade.

In his dissent today, Thomas said he would have granted review to one of the cases in order “to clarify that the Second Amendment protects a right to public carry.”

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The justices also declined to take up any of the eight separate cases asking them to revisit qualified immunity.

That legal doctrine, which has protected police officers from liability for misconduct, has come under scrutiny recently amid the nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice.

There, too, Thomas dissented from the court’s denial of review. One of the cases the justices declined involved a burglar who was bitten by a police dog after surrendering. 

Thomas reiterated past criticism of the court’s prior rulings on qualified immunity, 

"I have previously expressed my doubts about our qualified immunity jurisprudence," Thomas wrote. "Because our qualified immunity doctrine appears to stray from the statutory text, I would grant this petition."

-- Updated at 2:23 p.m.