Federal mootness doctrine is far more confusing than helpful. Riddled with inconsistent jurisdictional outcomes, mootness doctrine lacks a unitary theoretical approach. This confusion results because the Court has historically characterized elements of the doctrine as either prudential or constitutional. Because the Court has reached the merits of otherwise moot claims, its doctrine is neither completely prudential nor constitutional. Rather, it is a messy hodge-podge of both.
This Note analyzes New York State Riffle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. The City of New York (“NYSRPA”) in light of this dichotomous framework and assesses how the opinion engages with the distinction. In that case, New York City residents sought an injunction against the enforcement of a city ordinance barring the transport licensed firearms to second homes and shooting ranges outside the city. The new city rule provided for just that. The Court held that the case was moot and instructed Petitioners to amend their pleadings to allege an injury pursuant to the new rule—without mention of constitutional or prudential mootness.
This Note argues that NYSRPA was precisely the sort of case in which the distinction was outcome determinative. Given the politically charged Second Amendment issue underlying the mootness question, and the Court’s silence on the development of Second Amendment rights in the lower federal courts, strong prudential reasons cut in favor of reaching the merits. As a close case, NYSRPA was thus a missed opportunity to ground the doctrine in the more predictable constitutional approach, given the majority’s analysis and framing of mootness rules was distinctly constitutional—rather than prudential.