The court said it will review a lower court ruling that upheld a handgun ban in Chicago. Gun rights supporters challenged gun laws in Chicago and some suburbs immediately following the high court's decision in June 2008 that struck down a handgun ban in the District of Columbia, a federal enclave.
The new case tests whether last year's ruling applies as well to local and state laws.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld ordinances barring the ownership of handguns in most cases in Chicago and suburban Oak Park, Ill.
Judge Frank Easterbrook, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, said that "the Constitution establishes a federal republic where local differences are to be cherished as elements of liberty rather than extirpated in order to produce a single, nationally applicable rule."
"Federalism is an older and more deeply rooted tradition than is a right to carry any particular kind of weapon," Easterbrook wrote.
Evaluating arguments over the extension of the Second Amendment is a job "for the justices rather than a court of appeals," he said.
The high court took his suggestion Wednesday.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then an appeals court judge, was part of a three-judge panel in New York that reached a similar conclusion in January.
Judges on both courts — Republican nominees in Chicago and Democratic nominees in New York — said only the Supreme Court could decide whether to extend last year's ruling throughout the country. Many, but not all, of the constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights have been applied to cities and states.
The New York ruling also has been challenged, but the court did not act on it Wednesday. Sotomayor would have to sit out any case involving decisions she was part of on the appeals court. Although the issue is the same in the Chicago case, there is no ethical bar to her participation in its consideration by the Supreme Court.
Several Republican senators cited the Sotomayor gun ruling, as well as her reticence on the topic at her confirmation hearing, in explaining their decision to oppose her confirmation to the high court.
The case will be argued next year.
The case is McDonald v. Chicago, 08-1521.