The Justice Department on Friday asked the Supreme Court to expedite its review of a recent appeals court decision that found unconstitutional a federal law banning gun ownership by individuals under a domestic violence ban.
“Having a gun in a home where a domestic abuser lives increases the risk of homicide by a factor of six,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote Friday in her petition, urging the Supreme Court to decide before the summer recess whether to hear the case.
In February, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the 1996 law was unconstitutional, and while the ruling only applies to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, its supporters fear it will have wide repercussions, including deterring victims from making statements.
The district court cited a landmark Second Amendment ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority last year that set out a new test that lower courts can use to analyze the constitutionality of a gun law.
Prelogar told the Supreme Court Friday that the 5th Circuit’s reasoning was wrong and that the Supreme Court should review the case to “correct the Fifth Circuit’s misinterpretation of Bruen,” citing the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer.
Part of the test, according to a Supreme Court majority in June, was whether the gun restriction paralleled the rules in place at the time the Constitution was drafted.
The 5th District said that in its opinion on domestic violence gun restrictions earlier this year, the ban on alleged rapists had no such historical parallel and was therefore unconstitutional.
If “the 5th Circuit approach were universally applied,” Prelogar wrote, “few modern laws would stand up to judicial scrutiny; After all, most modern gun regulations differ from their historical predecessors in at least some respects.”
At the time of the district court’s decision, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that Congress defined the gun ban law “nearly 30 years ago” and announced the department’s plan to appeal the decision.
“Whether analyzed through the prism of Supreme Court precedent or the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, this statute is constitutional. Accordingly, the Department will seek further review of the contrary decision of the Fifth Circuit,” he said.
While some states subject to the appellate court have similar restrictions on state law, the new ruling undermines a critical tool that survivors must protect from their abusers. If the logic of the 5th Circuit were adopted by the US Supreme Court across the country, the consequences would be devastating, advocates say.
“People find out that their abuser still has a weapon. They will continue to live in absolute, disgusting fear,” said Heather Bellino, CEO of the Texas Advocacy Project, which works with victims of domestic violence. “They will be afraid to get a protection order because now these weapons will not disappear.”
The Justice Department has disputed three high-profile lawsuits filed in Texas against the policies of the Biden administration, accusing state politicians of choosing small, conservative federal court divisions that have little to do with their cases but almost guarantee them a sympathetic judge.
It’s part of the administration’s first concerted effort to combat what some legal experts say is the growing problem of “forum seeking” — a strategy in which plaintiffs allegedly pick the judges they want to hear, in defiance of random judge appointments. it is considered a principle of the American legal system.
One of the requests was denied. Two others are under consideration. In the fall, the Justice Department managed to convince a Texas judge in a fourth case involving a death row inmate that he did not have jurisdiction to rule on the matter.
In three lawsuits over Biden administration policies, Attorneys General of Texas and a handful of other states filed in rural federal courts, each with a lone judge with a reputation for ruling against Democratic administration policies. In contrast, most federal judiciaries across the country include several judges who are randomly assigned to hear cases as they are filed.
The Justice Department appears to have been cautious in its requests, trying to reassure the judges that the government considers them impartial, but still asking them to refer the lawsuits to a more directly relevant county. The federal government has argued that even the perception of judge shopping can undermine public confidence in the justice system.
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“The constant tactic of plaintiffs and others involved in filing many of their lawsuits against the federal government in chambers with a single judge or chambers where they are almost always guaranteed the employment of a particular judicial officer undermines public confidence in the administration of justice and requires the transfer of warrants in the interests of justice,” the ministry wrote last month in a motion to transfer a lawsuit related to immigration policy.
The lawsuit challenges the Biden administration’s new immigration slogan program, which would grant legal two-year entry to up to 360,000 people a year from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Judge Drew B. Tipton, President Donald Trump’s nominee who turned down another Biden immigration offer in 2021, denied a transfer request earlier this month.
“On the one hand, all parties in this case have categorically stated that this court will be fair and impartial as it hears this case,” Tipton wrote in his ruling on the parole motion. “On the other hand, the Federal Defendants argue that the filing of lawsuits by a single judge creates a possible public perception that there may not be a judge.”
The other two lawsuits challenge environmental policies and whether Congress will observed the voting protocols during the passage $1.7 trillion spending bill. Federal lawyers argued that all three cases should have been filed either in Austin, the capital of Texas, or in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital.
At the very least, the Justice Department argued, judges should consider transferring cases to multi-judge divisions of Texas to avoid the impression that they are buying judges.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and his team argued in their response memos that they were not violating any rules by filing with these small units and that Biden’s policies would affect all Texas residents, including those who live in communities. where cases are filed. .
Democrats and Republicans have long been looking for divisions where they think they have the best chance of getting a judge or jury that is favorable to them—for Democrats, that means filing a lawsuit in district courts in liberal areas. There are no federal laws prohibiting single judges, and Texas is not the only state to have them. But according to legal experts, the ability to judge in Texas is unique because there are many single-judge divisions, most of which are in rural, Republican-dominated areas.
Texas has four major federal judicial districts. Steve Wladek, professor of constitutional law at the University of Texas School of Law, said the four counties are divided into 27 geographic divisions. Eight divisions have one judge, giving plaintiffs who file a complaint a nearly 100 percent chance of getting a pre-selected judge, which Wladek said should worry people across the political spectrum.
“People should step back and say, even if I am sympathetic to the nature of these lawsuits today, am I comfortable setting the precedent that a hand-picked district judge in an unusual state can dictate national policy in a future presidential election?” He said.
Paxton’s office has sued the Biden administration 28 times in Texas courts, according to a Justice Department summary. Eighteen of those cases were filed with single judge divisions, the department said.
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One of the department’s tasks went to Judge Matthew J. Kachsmaric of Amarillo, Texas, a Trump nominee who recently made headlines when he presided over a lawsuit to revoke the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a drug for mifepristone abortion.
The Biden administration has not requested the transfer of either the mifepristone lawsuit or another lawsuit filed in the Kaczmarik court that seeks to block the Biden administration’s gun order.
Instead, the Justice Department asked Kaczmarik to relinquish control of a case challenging policies that allow pension plan managers to factor climate change and other environmental and social concerns into investment decisions.
At least one of the plaintiffs in both the abortion pill lawsuits and gun policy lawsuits is linked to Amarillo, making it harder for the Biden administration to argue that cases shouldn’t be filed there. But the environmental investment case, according to the Justice Department, has no such connection.
Bruce Green, a professor at Fordham Law School, said the single judge divisions were not created so that lawyers could find loopholes in how judges were assigned to cases. Instead, he said, they were created so that people living in rural communities could have easy access to courts, even if the population was not large enough to support courthouses with multiple judges on duty.
In some states, rural judges rotate courthouses to avoid single-judge divisions, making it much more difficult to ensure that a case is heard by a particular judge.
“It makes sense to have the equivalent of a school building with one room, one court presided over by one judge, so that everyone who lives in the area and is near this courthouse registers there,” Green said. “It doesn’t make sense when the case doesn’t have much connection to the place.”
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Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said he didn’t see an ethical problem with Paxton trying to “shop.” Attorneys follow long-standing federal rules about where claims can be filed, he said, noting that if the outcome of any of the claims is appealed, a panel of judges from the right-handed Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals may consider whether the cases were properly filed in a particular judicial department.
“Why is the Texas Attorney General suing Amarillo?” Blackman said. “Answer: this is a judge of a single division. The litigants trade rationally.”
Last year, the Justice Department won one victory in its fight against judge selection by convincing a conservative judge in Wichita Falls, Texas, to dismiss a lawsuit against an Oklahoma prisoner and the death penalty. The federal government has ruled John Fitzgerald Hanson in 2000 to life imprisonment for a series of robberies. He was later sentenced to death by the state of Oklahoma for the murder of two people.
In October, the Oklahoma Attorney General filed a lawsuit in Wichita Falls seeking Hanson’s transfer from federal custody to state custody so he could be executed. Oklahoma lawyers said they filed the lawsuit in Wichita Falls — a city in northern Texas — because it was about halfway between the Oklahoma Attorney General’s residence in Oklahoma City and the Bureau of Prisons’ regional director’s residence in western Texas.
The Justice Department argued that the lawsuit should be filed in the Western District of Louisiana, where Hanson is located.
In response, George W. Bush’s nominee Reid O’Connor, who is seen as a pro-conservative judge, dropped the case.
“This case is CLOSED,” he wrote, “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”
“Do they share voices? Yes, of course,” said Cato Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman who supports Ms. Haley. “Are they going to take something from Donald Trump? I do not know yet”.
Mr. Trump continues to have a large share of support among Republican voters in South Carolina. He did not attend Saturday’s event, although he was invited. As was Mr. DeSantis, who was also invited. government Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who is still considering a possible presidential nomination and attended the forum, told reporters on Saturday that the presence of Mr. Scott and Ms. Haley has created a “somewhat complicated situation.”
Mr. Scott was on a week-long tour of the hearings of the first major states, namely Iowa and South Carolina. In addition to the necessary meetings with constituents and donors, Mr. Scott paid special attention to religious leaders and held several meetings with pastors. Ms. Haley, whose campaign team boasted of making nearly 20 campaign stops in the month she was a candidate, plans to visit New Hampshire in late March.
Ms. Haley and Mr. Scott are two Republicans of color in a predominantly white party. Each has used the distinction to refute Democrats’ critique of systemic racism in America and to argue that the country remains a beacon of progress and opportunity.
“America is not racist, we are lucky,” Ms. Haley said, a message she repeatedly stressed.
Mr. Dawson, Former State ChairmanThe Republican Party, which supports Ms. Haley, has proposed a different scenario. Instead of wiping out each other’s voters, he said, Ms. Haley and Mr. Scott could consolidate their resources if one of them suspended his presidential candidacy to support the other. Such a move could boost one of the contenders’ odds against a higher-ranking candidate such as Mr. Trump or Mr. DeSantis.
“If you combine these two for anything, you will be in trouble,” Mr. Dawson said. “Because they like each other.”