It was the Supreme Court’s two hunting buddies — Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia — who squared off last week when the divided court upheld criminal penalties for people who lie about their true intentions when they buy guns.
But those who follow the court’s jurisprudence on gun control were more interested in what the decision said about a third justice, Anthony M. Kennedy.
Kennedy joined the court’s liberals in Abramski v. U.S. to uphold the federal law that outlaws buying guns at the direction of others, known as “straw purchases.” As the senior justice in the majority, he chose Kagan to write the 5-to-4 opinion and answer the dissent of Scalia and the rest of the court’s conservatives.
The case did not raise questions about the individual right to gun ownership under the Second Amendment that the court, with Kennedy in the majority, recognized six years ago.
But some saw the decision as helping to explain the court’s steadfast refusal since then to take cases asking the justices to flesh out that right: Because neither conservatives nor liberals can be quite sure where Kennedy would come down on the issue.