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Justices take up major Second Amendment dispute

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The Supreme Court will hear oral argument next fall in a major gun-rights case challenging the constitutionality of a federal ban on the possession of guns by individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. The Biden administration had asked the justices to weigh in after a federal appeals court struck down the ban earlier this year, and on Friday the justices agreed to do so.

The announcement that the justices had granted review in United States v. Rahimi came on a list of orders released by the justices on Friday at noon. The justices held their last regularly scheduled conference before their summer recess on Thursday, June 22, and issued orders from that conference on Monday, June 26. But the justices traditionally hold another conference, colloquially known as the “clean-up” conference, after they release all of their decisions for the term, to dispose of any petitions for review that have been on hold awaiting the outcome of related cases on the merits. In recent years, the justices have also added new cases to their docket for the upcoming term, and they did so again on Friday, granting review in seven new cases, including Rahimi.

The challenge to the gun-possession ban comes to the court in the case of Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man who during a 2019 argument in a parking lot knocked his girlfriend to the ground and dragged her back to his car, causing her to hit her head on the car’s dashboard. In a telephone call after the incident, Rahimi told the woman that he would shoot her if she told anyone about the assault.

A few months later, a Texas state court entered a domestic violence restraining order against Rahimi. The order also barred Rahimi from possessing a gun and warned him that doing so while the order was in effect could be a federal felony.

Roughly a year later, while the order was still in effect, Rahimi was a suspect in a series of shootings. When police officers searched his home pursuant to a warrant, they found (among other things) a pistol, a rifle, and ammunition – along with a copy of the restraining order.

Rahimi was charged with violating the federal ban on the possession of a firearm by anyone who is the subject of a domestic violence restraining order. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to just over six years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

The conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit initially upheld his conviction. But after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, striking down New York’s handgun-licensing scheme, the court of appeals issued a new opinion that threw out Rahimi’s conviction. Despite the restraining order, the court reasoned, Rahimi was still retained his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment unless, as the Supreme Court explained in Bruen, the federal government could show that the ban was consistent with the country’s historical tradition of regulating firearms. Because it was not, the court of appeals concluded, the law is unconstitutional.

The Biden administration came quickly to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to grant review and reverse the 5th Circuit’s ruling. Emphasizing that “[g]overnments have long disarmed individuals who pose a threat to the safety of others,” and that the law “falls comfortably within that tradition,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices that allowing the 5th Circuit’s decision to stand would “threaten[] grave harms for victims of domestic violence.”

Rahimi urged the justices to deny review and leave the 5th Circuit’s ruling in place. He depicted the decision of the court of appeals as a “faithful application of Bruen.” But in any event, he continued, it has been only a short time since the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen, and the lower courts are “now hard at work applying the new historical framework and re[e]valuating firearm restrictions that were previously upheld under” the less stringent test in place before Bruen. The justices should wait to step in until more lower courts have had a chance to interpret federal and state gun laws in light of Bruen, Rahimi concluded.

After considering the case at two consecutive conferences, the justices granted review without comment. The case will likely be argued in the fall, with a decision to follow sometime next year.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Justices take up major Second Amendment dispute, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 30, 2023, 1:03 PM),