In a decision today, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia invalidated the ruling in Wrenn v. DC. Sr. US District Court Judge Frederick Scullin, Jr. had issued a preliminary injunction against the new "may-issue" carry law adopted by the District. That ruling had been stayed while the Court of Appeals considered DC's appeal of the injunction.
Senior Circuit Judge David Sentelle writing for the Court of Appeals said that the case must be overturned on jurisdictional grounds and that they Court was not ruling on the merits of the case. He said based upon a 1937 Supreme Court ruling in Frad v. Kelly that a ruling where the judge did not have jurisdiction was null.
The controlling fact in this case is the identity of the judge who decided it in the district court – The Honorable Senior United States District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., of the Northern District of New York. The difficulty in this case is evident from the office of the deciding judge. Judge Scullin is a Judge of the Northern District of New York, not of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Under the Constitution and the statutes, the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints a judge to the district court of a particular district, where he exercises the jurisdiction of the court.What this means in practical terms is that the Wrenn case must start over from scratch. A new judge must be appointed for the case and briefs submitted. If there is a good thing coming out of the Court of Appeals ruling, it is that no precedent involving the substance of the case was established.
It is possible for a district judge, including a senior judge, to lawfully adjudicate matters in another district. However, in order for a judge to exercise this judicial authority in a district located outside the circuit of his home district, the judge must be “designated and assigned by the Chief Justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 294(c)-(d). See also 28 U.S.C. § 294(e) (“No retired [i.e., senior] . . . judge shall perform judicial duties except when designated and assigned.”).
Before the visiting judge may be designated and assigned by the Chief Justice, the chief judge of the receiving district must “present . . . a certificate of necessity.” 28 U.S.C. § 294(d). Then, and only then, may the Chief Justice of the United States “designate and assign” the judge duties in the receiving district. Id. Although Judge Scullin had served under a properly issued designation, the difficulty in the present case is that designation was limited to specific and enumerated cases. The present litigation is not one of those cases.
The error in this case is quite understandable. The calendar committee of the district court assigned the matter to Judge Scullin because it deemed the case to be related to another case over which Judge Scullin presided. The difficulty is, while the earlier case was within the Chief Justice’s designation, the present one is not.