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Supreme Court takes up battle over guns for domestic abusers

Only a year after setting a new framework for Second Amendment jurisprudence, the Supreme Court will seek to better clarify its ruling for lower courts.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court signed off for the summer on Friday with an order list that takes up a follow-on case to its blockbuster Second Amendment ruling from last term. 

When they return in the fall, the justices will hear arguments on a federal law that blocks domestic abusers from having guns under restraining orders. The Fifth Circuit had struck the law down earlier this year based on the high court’s new framework for evaluating challenges to the Second Amendment,  

Lower courts have struggled these last 12 months on reaching a consensus about how to balance modern gun laws against their historical twins. Zackey Rahimi’s case is just one example. 

A Texas state court placed a protective order against Rahimi in February 2020. According to court documents, he became violent with his girlfriend — identified as C.M. — after a disagreement in an Arlington, Texas, parking lot. Rahimi is accused of grabbing C.M. by the wrist and pulling her into his car. Rahimi also allegedly fired his gun at an onlooker who witnessed the dispute. C.M. escaped but Rahimi threatened to shoot her if she told anyone of the assault. 

C.M. disregarded Rahimi’s threat and sought a restraining order. The Texas judge’s order specifically stated Rahimi would face felony charges if found in possession of a weapon while under its restrictions. 

The government alleges Rahimi violated the protective order both by contacting C.M. and sneaking around her house in the middle of the night and by possessing firearms. During this time, Rahimi was also charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for threatening a different woman. 

After connecting him to five different shootings, police obtained a search warrant for Rahimi’s home, finding two guns. 

Rahimi was indicted by a federal grand jury and was sentenced to over six years in prison after pleading guilty. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the ruling initially, but that ruling was withdrawn after June 2022 when the ruling by Justice Clarence Thomas in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen changed the framework for reviewing Second Amendment cases. When the Fifth Circuit originally reviewed Rahimi’s case, they used a two-step categorical test. After June 2022, that test was no longer valid. 

Bruen threw out the categorical test for a historical version. Under the new framework, gun regulations have to be historically analogous to those of the founding generation. For Rahimi, this meant that, because no law in the 1700s prevented domestic abusers from owning guns, the government can not do so in 2023. 

The government argues that the Fifth Circuit took the high court’s ruling too literally. 

“In Bruen, the Court emphasized that its historical test did not create a ‘regulatory straightjacket’ and that the government retains substantial power to regulate firearms to protect public safety,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the government’s petition before the court. 

The government did not go to the Fifth Circuit empty-handed. In 17th-century England, the government took guns away from people who were accused of endangering the kingdom. The same went for untrustworthy individuals during the founding era. All of these analogies were discarded by the Fifth Circuit. 

“The Fifth Circuit treated even minor and immaterial distinctions between historical laws and their modern counterparts as a sufficient reason to find the modern laws unconstitutional,” Prelogar wrote. “If that approach were applied across the board, few modern statutes would survive judicial review; most modern gun regulations, after all, differ from their historical forbears in at least some ways.” 

Rahimi argued it is too soon for the justices to review Bruen and that lower courts need more time to digest the ruling. 

Friday's order list also grants a writ of certiorari to Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow, a sergeant with the St. Louis, Missouri, police department. For nine years, Muldrow worked in the force’s intelligence division on public corruption and human-trafficking cases. When Muldrow was transferred out of the division suddenly, however, every aspect of her job changed, including schedule, responsibilities and workplace environment. 

Muldrow was unsatisfied with the transfer and applied for a different position. She claims her career suffered when the department turned her down. 

Accusing the department of discrimination on the basis of sex, Muldrow sued. Lower courts ruled against her, and the Supreme Court will now answer if Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents discrimination in transfer decisions. 

Another entry on Friday's order list is a challenge to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s authority. George Jarkesy sued after the SEC brought an administrative proceeding against his two hedge funds, which together managed $24 million in assets for 120 investors.

The government says the funds violated securities law by misrepresenting itself and its investment strategies. A panel from the D.C. Circuit affirmed dismissal of Jarkesy's suit. The Supreme Court will now review the case to decide if the agency had the authority to bring proceedings seeking civil penalties and whether the SEC is authorized to enforce laws through adjudication. 

Per the court's custom, the justices did not offer an explanation for its decision to hear the cases.

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Criminal, Law

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