The Supreme Court walks back Clarence Thomas’ guns extremism

The Supreme Court walks back Clarence Thomas’ guns extremism

Mark Joseph Stern writes:

The Supreme Court upheld a federal law disarming domestic abusers on Friday, significantly narrowing a radical 2022 precedent in the process. Its 8–1 ruling in U.S. v. Rahimi is a major victory for gun safety laws, a much-needed reprieve after two years of unceasing hostility from the federal judiciary. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion walked back maximalist rhetoric—recklessly injected into the law by Justice Clarence Thomas—that had imperiled virtually every modern regulation limiting access to firearms. Thomas was the lone dissenter, signifying the rest of the court’s mad dash away from his extremist position on the Second Amendment.

Rahimi involves a violent criminal, Zackey Rahimi, who beat his girlfriend, then fired shots at either her or a witness as she fled his abuse. His girlfriend subsequently obtained a restraining order from a state court that found that he posed “a credible threat” to her “physical safety.” Rahimi, however, continued harassing her, threatened a different woman with a firearm, and was identified as the suspect in at least five additional shootings. When the police searched his apartment, they found a pistol, a rifle, ammunition, and a copy of the restraining order.

Rahimi was indicted under a federal law that bars individuals from possessing firearms while subject to a restraining order for domestic violence. He argued that this statute violated his Second Amendment rights, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agreed. The court rested its analysis on New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision establishing a constitutional right to carry firearms in public. Thomas’ opinion in Bruen, though, went much further than that specific holding, declaring that all restrictions on the right to bear arms are presumptively unconstitutional unless they have a sufficient set of “historical analogues” from the distant past. (He didn’t bother to clarify the precise era, but it seemed to be sometime between 1791 and 1868.)

That approach posed two fundamental problems, which the lower courts quickly encountered when trying to apply Bruen: First, judges are not historians and cannot parse the complex, often incomplete record in this area with any consistency or reliability; and second, modern problems require modern solutions, especially when past bigotry prevented lawmakers from perceiving those problems in the first place. Rahimi is Exhibit A: Men were generally permitted to abuse their wives in the 18th and 19th centuries, with courts hesitant to interfere with what they deemed a private “familial affair.” Countless other examples have arisen in the lower courts since Bruen, with judges creating new rights to scratch the serial number off guns and own firearms while using illegal substances.

Roberts attempted to put a stop to this chaos on Friday. His Rahimi opinion cut back Bruen at every turn. [Continue reading…]

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