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Supreme Court to review law barring domestic abusers from having guns

The Supreme Court next term will consider whether individuals subject to domestic-violence restraining orders can be prohibited from having firearms, setting up the first major test of gun restrictions since the court’s conservative majority expanded Second Amendment rights last year.

The court on Friday announced plans to take up the gun case and several others, filling in its calendar for the term that begins in October. The orders came shortly after the justices issued their final opinions of the current term, striking down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan and siding with a Colorado web designer who does not want to make wedding websites for same-sex couples.

Other new cases the court accepted involve immigration, the rights of criminal defendants and employment discrimination.

In the gun case, Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar asked the justices to reverse a decision from the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which said the Second Amendment prevents Congress from taking guns from people who are under domestic-violence restraining orders.

“Governments have long disarmed individuals who pose a threat to the safety of others,” Prelogar wrote in the Biden administration’s petition to the court. The 5th Circuit “misapplies this Court’s precedents, conflicts with the decisions of other courts of appeals, and threatens grave harms for victims of domestic violence.”

The case tests a 1994 federal law that prohibits a person subject to such an order from possessing a firearm. The challenge cites the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in a New York case that raised new obstacles for government officials throughout the country to justify restrictions on firearms.

In that 6-3 ruling, the court’s conservative majority struck down a century-old New York law requiring a special need to carry a firearm outside the home. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said government officials cannot justify restrictions on firearms based on “an important interest” such as public safety concerns. Instead, he wrote, officials must “demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

The decision has imperiled all types of gun regulations and left lower court judges divided over how to evaluate long-standing restrictions, in some cases asking whether they should call on historians to help.

Gun rights advocates have urged the court to reverse the 5th Circuit ruling, which they said would upend protections for victims of domestic violence and put them at risk for gun violence.

“When abusers have access to guns, their victims are five times more likely to be shot and killed,” Janet Carter, senior director of issues and appeals at Everytown Law, said in a statement. “Domestic abusers do not have — and should not have — the constitutional right to possess a firearm.”

The challenge to the domestic-violence order restrictions was brought by Zackey Rahimi, a drug dealer in Arlington, Tex., who was placed under a restraining order after a 2019 argument with his girlfriend in a parking lot turned violent. According to court records, Rahimi knocked her to the ground, dragged her back to his car, picked her up and pushed her inside, causing her to hit her head on the dashboard. Realizing that a bystander had seen him, he retrieved a gun and fired a shot. The girlfriend escaped, but Rahimi later called her and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone about the assault.

A Texas court found that Rahimi had “committed family violence” and that such violence was “likely to occur again in the future.” The order also suspended his gun license, prohibited him from possessing a firearm and warned him that possessing a firearm while the order remained in effect may be a federal felony.

Rahimi went on to violate the order and was involved in five shootings in two months, according to court documents. He was charged with violating the gun prohibition. Rahimi initially pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 73 months in prison. The appeals court first affirmed his conviction, but after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the New York case, it withdrew its original opinion.

In its March opinion invalidating the firearms ban for people under domestic violence restraining orders, the 5th Circuit said that although Rahimi was “hardly a model citizen,” he is “nonetheless among ‘the people’ entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal.” Judge Cory T. Wilson wrote the unanimous opinion for the three-judge panel.

Judge James Ho, who issued a concurring opinion, said he found the law “difficult to justify” because it disarms individuals “based on civil protective orders” rather than “criminal proceedings.” Such orders, he said, are susceptible to “abuse.”

The court also announced on Friday its decision not to take up several other cases, drawing dissents from some justices, who said they would have reviewed those matters.

Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor said the court should have taken up a case upholding Mississippi’s voting ban for certain felons, originally enacted to disenfranchise Black voters. The two justices said the 5th Circuit got it wrong when it held that changes to the law mean the statute does not retain its discriminatory purpose. The case was brought by two Black residents barred from voting — one because of a conviction for forgery in 1986 and the other because of an embezzlement conviction in 2005.

“Constitutional wrongs do not right themselves,” Jackson wrote. “With its failure to take action, the Court has missed yet another opportunity to learn from its mistakes.”

Separately, the court declined to review two cases involving legal protections for law enforcement officers accused of using deadly force.

The court also said it would not review a lower court decision finding for the first time that gender dysphoria is covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The case involves a transgender woman who sued a suburban Washington jail for housing her with men during her incarceration.

Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas said the court should have taken up a decision that raises “important and sensitive questions” regarding such matters as “participation in women’s and girls’ sports, access to single-sex restrooms and housing, the use of traditional pronouns.” He also suggested the case would have provided a chance for the court to examine whether physicians who object to gender-affirming treatment on moral or religious grounds should be required to provide such services.

Robert Barnes contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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