The Supreme Court has been working diligently this session, yet there even 4-4 ideological split has meant some predictably split decisions. Without the tie-breaking vote, the Court is somewhat hamstrung. Yet the ruling on this one came down 6-2.
What was at stake? The basic question is this: are federal restrictions that prevent people with domestic assault convictions from owning guns legal?
The answer was not a surprise to many. Even those who advocate a complete repeal of every restriction on gun ownership know there are some issues, like this, that are doomed to fail.
The case, Voisine v. United States, presented the cases of two men from Maine who hit their partners and were found guilty of misdemeanor domestic assaults.
A federal law prevents them from owning guns. The men argued they their bans were unconstitutional, and claimed that their crimes were not premeditated. Because of the spontaneity, the men wanted more consideration.
Yet Congress’s definition of a “misdemeanor crime of violence” makes no exclusion reckless behaviors.
“A person who assaults another recklessly ‘use[s]’ force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally,” read Justice Elana Kagan’s majority opinion.
Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the two dissenters, focused on language within the federal law–specifically the phrase “use of force.”
A “use of force,” Thomas argued, is “an inherently intentional act—that is, an act done for the purpose of causing certain consequences or at least with knowledge that those consequences will ensue.”
Thomas was outspoken during the oral arguments phase, and questioned if misdemeanor violations should mean someone is stripped of their constitutional rights.
“We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly,” said Justice Thomas.
That’s the main message, there. If you’re looking for an interpretation of this ruling that will have long reaching consequences, look no further than Thomas’s admonition. We would never suspend a person’s 1st Amendment rights because they were convicted of a felony, much less a misdemeanor. So why would we suspend the 2nd Amendment rights?
For strict constitutionalists, the loss hurts. Yet a vote in favor of allowing domestic abusers to own guns is hard to defend. Yet Thomas is on record with a bigger, much more complicated question–and one that is harder for any American to defend.