Oral argument recap: Logan v. US
In oral argument, Richard Coad "“ representing petitioner James Logan "“ emphasized that Section 921(a)(20) should apply to both offenders who lost and later regained their civil rights and offenders whose never lost those civil rights since there is no marked difference between the two. To apply the exemption clause only to those whose civil rights were lost and later restored leads to absurdist results within a particular state, such as Wisconsin, by imposing a harsher punishment on a less serious offender than a more serious offender. Coad's strongest point was that in cases of automatic restoration, "civil rights restored" and "civil rights retained" are virtually identical and therefore should be treated the same under the exemption clause. However, Justices Scalia and Kennedy pressed the point that civil rights restored and retained are not the same in cases involving individualized determinations of an offender's trustworthiness. Chief Justice Roberts (as well as Justices Scalia and Souter) further challenged Coad's absurdist argument by addressing questions about the domestic violence misdemeanor provision under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33), in which Congress explicitly exempted people whose rights were restored but not people whose rights were never taken away"”thus suggesting that Section 921(a)(2) is "not that absurd if Congress did the same thing in (a)(33)."
In response, Assistant to the Solicitor General Daryl Joseffer "“ arguing on behalf of the United States — reiterated the government's plain meaning argument and stressed that the exemption clause is not absurd. First, he stated that the word "restore" simply does not mean "leave alone." Second, he argued that the exemption clause is not absurd when viewed in light of Section 921(a)(33). In introducing a potentially weak spot for the United States, Justice Alito questioned Joseffer regarding what possible rationales would motivate Congress to distinguish between "civil rights restored" and "civil rights retained" in cases of automatic restoration. Joseffer responded that Congress may have made the distinction in an effort to balance two policies: on the one hand, to defer to states in undoing their convictions and, on the other hand, to apply the federal firearms disability to serious felonies"”which would been effectively gutted by a retention of rights exemption. Although anomalies may result from these two competing policies, Joseffer argued that they are only minor because anomalies only occur in about three states, and even in those states, anomalies are greatly reduced by the firearms exception within the exemption clause. But Justice Alito pressed the point that the distinction between restored and retained civil rights made sense in an "individualized determination" but not when there is a "blanket restoration of rights." In response, Joseffer fell back on the government's plain meaning argument and speculated that Congress may not have distinguished between individualized and automatic restoration of rights because it did not want to micromanage the states' restorative methods.
In rebuttal, Coad's main point was that there is no substantive difference between automatic restoration of rights and a state allowing an individual to retain rights, particularly since, in many instances of automatic restoration, there is no passage of time and no additional conditions the offender must meet.