Supreme Court kicks gun cases back to lower courts for new look after Second Amendment ruling (2024)

Politics

By Melissa Quinn

/ CBS News

Washington — The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered lower courts to take another look at challenges to several federal and state firearms restrictions in the wake of its ruling upholding a law that bans people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from having guns.

The cases had been pending before the court for months while it considered the constitutionality of the 30-year-old law that disarmed alleged domestic abusers. In an 8-1 ruling last month, the court found that the Second Amendment allows an individual who poses a credible threat to the safety of others to be banned from having firearms temporarily.

On the heels of that decision, the Supreme Court tossed out lower court rulings invalidating two separate federal firearms restrictions as applied to their individual challengers, as well as a lower court ruling that upheld provisions of a New York law. It sent the cases back to the lower courts for additional proceedings based on its latest ruling.

The federal gun restrictions

The federal laws at issue in the legal battles have been on the books for years, but came under renewed scrutiny in the wake of the Supreme Court's June 2022 decision that imposed a new framework for evaluating the constitutionality of gun restrictions. In that ruling, the court said that for firearms laws to comply with the Second Amendment, the government must identify historical analogues that show the measure is consistent with the nation's history and tradition of firearms regulation.

Supreme Court kicks gun cases back to lower courts for new look after Second Amendment ruling (1)

In one of the cases, known as Garland v. Range, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit said a federal law prohibiting convicted felons from having guns was unconstitutional as applied. The challenge to the felon-in-possession ban was brought by Bryan Range, a Pennsylvania man who pleaded guilty in state court to making a false statement about his income to obtain food stamps. Though violators may face up to five years in prison, he was sentenced to three years of probation. Range's conviction disqualified him from having guns.

Range sued, arguing that the felon disarmament law violates the Second Amendment as applied to him. A federal district court ruled for the government, but the full 3rd Circuit said the Justice Department hadn't met its burden of showing that applying the law is consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearms regulation.

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to step in and said the 3rd Circuit's decision "opened the courthouse doors to an untold number of future challenges by other felons based on their own particular offenses, histories, and personal circ*mstances." After the court upheld the law disarming alleged domestic abusers, the Justice Department urged the court to hear either Range's case or another similar dispute, as well as two others, and decide the constitutionality of the felon-in-possession ban.

Another case known as U.S. v. Daniels involves a federal law that prohibits unlawful drug users of having guns. In April 2022, Patrick Daniels was stopped by police for driving without a license plate. When an officer approached Daniels' car, he smelled marijuana, and police found butts of joints, a loaded pistol and loaded rifle when searching the vehicle.

Daniels admitted he had used marijuana since high school and smoked about 14 days out of a month. A federal grand jury in Mississippi indicted Daniels for having a gun as an unlawful user of a controlled substance in violation of federal law. He was then convicted after a jury trial and sentenced to 46 months in prison.

While the district court rejected Daniels' bid to toss out the indictment on the grounds that the gun law was unconstitutional as applied to him, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed that decision and held that the law barring illegal drug users from having guns violated the Second Amendment as applied to Daniels.

No federal appeals court has invalidated the prohibition on its face, and the constitutionality of the firearms prohibition for drug users has divided lower courts. Hunter Biden, President Biden's son, was convicted of violating the ban last month, and could argue in an appeal that it doesn't comport with the Second Amendment. His lawyers unsuccessfully sought to have the charge dismissed at an earlier stage in his case, but the trial judge said Hunter Biden could renew his challenge to the law's constitutionality.

New York's gun law

The case involving New York's firearms restrictions, known as Antonyuk v. James, arose after the law at issue was passed in July 2022. The measure requires that a person applying for a license to carry firearms in public must demonstrate "good moral character," or "having the essential character, temperament and judgment necessary to be entrusted with a weapon and to use it only in a manner that does not endanger oneself or others."

Applicants for carry licenses also must complete firearms training, meet with a licensing offer for an interview, and submit certain information to the officer, including references who can attest to their "good moral character."

The package also prohibits firearms in numerous categories of sensitive locations, including courthouses, polling places and public parks, as well as venues like theaters and stadiums. Private properties in the state are also considered "restricted locations" where guns are prohibited, unless the owner posts signage or gives consent.

After the law took effect, a group of six gun owners living in New York challenged its restrictions on firearms in sensitive places and the licensing requirements, arguing they violated the Second Amendment and were in defiance of the Supreme Court's decision issued two years ago.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit eventually upheld the good-moral-character requirement and sensitive-place restrictions, finding that the gun owners were unlikely to succeed in their challenge. The gun owners thenasked the Supreme Court again to step into the dispute.

The impact of the Supreme Court's latest Second Amendment ruling on these cases was not immediately clear, but the majority did provide some additional guidance about what founding-era firearms regulations the government can put forth to justify a modern-day restriction under the court's 2022 framework.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the historical analogues required by that analysis need not be a "dead ringer" or "historical twin" for a modern-day law. The court also acknowledged that the nation has a long tradition of laws disarming individuals who pose a "clear threat of physical violence" to another.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissenter in the case, known as U.S. v. Rahimi.

Melissa Quinn

Melissa Quinn is a politics reporter for CBSNews.com. She has written for outlets including the Washington Examiner, Daily Signal and Alexandria Times. Melissa covers U.S. politics, with a focus on the Supreme Court and federal courts.

Supreme Court kicks gun cases back to lower courts for new look after Second Amendment ruling (2024)
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