Wilson v. County of CookAnnotate this Case
In 2006, following expiration of the federal assault weapons ban, Cook County enacted the Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban. The law prohibits possession of "assault weapons," defined by characteristics, and large-capacity magazines. It includes a nonexhaustive list of prohibited models. A person who lawfully possessed prohibited items had 90 days from the effective date to surrender, remove, or modify them. Violation is punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months and a fine between $500 and $1,000. Opponents filed a preenforcement action, based on facial claims of vagueness, denial of equal protection, and violation of the right to bear arms. The trial court dismissed; the appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court remanded for trial on the Second Amendment claim, affirming dismissal of the due process and equal protection claims. Given the early stage of the litigation, it cannot be said conclusively whether "assault weapons" as defined by the ordinance fall within the scope of rights protected by the Second Amendment. The question requires an empirical inquiry, beyond the scope of both the record and judicial notice. The county has not had an opportunity to establish a nexus between the ordinance and the protected governmental interest.
The Illinois Supreme Court held that a second amendment challenge to Cook County’s ban on assault weapons could proceed in circuit court and should not have been dismissed at the pleading stage for failure to state a cause of action. No trial has yet occurred.
At issue is the constitutional validity of a Cook County ordinance enacted in 2006 and renamed the Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban in 2007. Various plaintiffs opposed to the ordinance filed a preenforcement action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief based on their facial challenges to the ordinance’s constitutionality. It was claimed that the ordinance violates due process because of vagueness, denies equal protection, and is in violation of the right to bear arms, which is protected by the second amendment to the United States Constitution. The defendants responded with a motion to dismiss, which the circuit court granted. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal in 2011, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
In this decision, it was held that the dismissal of the complaint counts alleging denial of due process and equal protection could stand, and the results reached in the courts below were upheld. However, as to the second amendment issue, the supreme court took a different view. At this early stage of the litigation, in the procedural posture of this case, it cannot be said conclusively whether “assault weapons” as defined by the ordinance fall within or outside the scope of the rights protected by the second amendment. This question requires an empirical inquiry that goes beyond the scope of both the record in the current litigation and judicial notice. The supreme court said that, at this point in the lawsuit, it cannot be said that no set of facts can be proved that would entitle the plaintiffs to relief. Neither has the County had an opportunity to present evidence to justify a nexus between the ordinance and the governmental interest it seeks to protect. Therefore, the circuit court’s dismissal of the complaint count based on the second amendment was improper and was reversed, as was that part of the appellate court’s judgment which affirmed the dismissal.
The cause was remanded to the circuit court of Cook County for further proceedings.