WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States Supreme Court appeared poised on Tuesday to uphold a federal law that prohibits individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms.
In their first firearms-related case since last year’s expansion of gun rights, the justices indicated their inclination to overturn a ruling by an appeals court in New Orleans that invalidated the 1994 prohibition on firearms for individuals under court orders to maintain distance from their spouses or partners.
The court’s decision could have far-reaching implications for other cases in which various gun control laws have been called into question, including the high-profile prosecution of Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, who has been charged with purchasing a firearm while addicted to drugs, and his lawyers have indicated they intend to challenge the indictment.
Both liberal and conservative justices appeared to be persuaded by arguments put forth by the Biden administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, contending that the prohibition aligns with the longstanding practice of disarming individuals deemed dangerous.
The case before the court centers on Zackey Rahimi, a Texas resident accused of assaulting his girlfriend during a dispute in a parking lot and later threatening to shoot her.
During the proceedings, the justices posed skeptical questions to Rahimi’s attorney, J. Matthew Wright, suggesting the likely outcome.
“Do you have any doubt that your client is a dangerous person?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked Wright. When Wright responded that it depended on the definition of dangerous, the chief justice retorted, “Well, it means someone who’s shooting, you know, at people. That’s a good start.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh expressed concerns that a ruling in favor of Rahimi could jeopardize the background check system that the Democratic administration asserts has prevented over 75,000 gun sales in the past 25 years based on domestic violence protection orders.
The federal appeals court in New Orleans struck down the domestic violence law following the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision in June 2022. This high court ruling not only expanded Americans’ gun rights under the Constitution but also altered the manner in which courts are supposed to assess firearm restrictions.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion for the court discarded the balancing test that judges had long employed to determine the constitutionality of gun laws. Instead of considering whether a law enhances public safety, judges should only evaluate whether it fits into the nation’s history of gun regulation, Thomas wrote on behalf of the six conservative justices on the nine-member court.
The Bruen decision has led to lower court decisions striking down more than a dozen laws, including age restrictions, bans on homemade ghost guns without serial numbers, and prohibitions on gun ownership for individuals convicted of nonviolent felonies or using illegal drugs.
Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that “there seems to be a fair bit of division and a fair bit of confusion about what Bruen means and what Bruen requires in the lower courts.”
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, defending the domestic violence law, urged the justices to use this case to rectify the “profound misreading” of the decision by lower courts.
The extent to which the Supreme Court will rule in this case remains uncertain, as some justices expressed interest in a limited decision that would leave open the possibility of further challenges to the same law. “Do we need to get into any of that?” Justice Neil Gorsuch asked Prelogar.
Rahimi, who resided near Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly struck his girlfriend during an altercation in a parking lot and later discharged a firearm at a witness in December 2019, according to court documents. Subsequently, Rahimi called his girlfriend and threatened to shoot her if she disclosed the assault to anyone, as detailed in the Justice Department’s Supreme Court brief.
In February 2020, the girlfriend obtained a protective order against him in Tarrant County. Eleven months later, Rahimi became a suspect in shootings when police searched his apartment and found firearms. He ultimately pleaded guilty to violating federal law, a conviction that the appeals court overturned when it invalidated the law. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal.
Rahimi is currently incarcerated in Texas, where he faces other criminal charges. In a letter penned from jail last summer, after the Supreme Court agreed to hear his case, Rahimi expressed his commitment to “stay away from all firearms and weapons” once he is released. The New York Times initially reported the existence of this letter.
According to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns were involved in 57% of homicides of spouses, intimate partners, children, or relatives in 2020. Additionally, on average, seventy women per month are shot and killed by their intimate partners, as reported by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.
“Guns and domestic violence are a deadly combination,” Prelogar emphasized in court on Tuesday.
A decision in U.S. v. Rahimi, 22-915, is anticipated by early summer.