WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared to be wary of striking down a federal law denying gun ownership to people under domestic violence protective orders.
In oral arguments lasting about 100 minutes on Nov. 7, the justices heard a Tarrant County case brought by Arlington resident Zackey Rahimi arguing that his Second Amendment rights overrode a federal law denying possession of guns to people who had a domestic violence restraining order against them.
If the Supreme Court strikes down Rahimi’s challenge, a law about firearm possession under protective orders would remain in place.
Justices could uphold a federal appeals court decision. The lower court threw out the federal protective order law as unconstitutional.
“I think it’s pretty clear the Rahimi conviction will be affirmed,” said Clark Neily, senior vice president for legal studies at the Cato Institute, a conservative group that supports gun rights.
Clark, who attended the oral arguments, predicted the decision would be 8-1 or unanimous.
Esther Sanchez-Gomez, litigation director for Giffords, an advocacy organization led by gun violence victim and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was with dozens of activists from various groups demonstrating their support for the law in front of the Supreme Court steps.
“This law is hugely important for protecting domestic abuse survivors,” she said. “The way they decide this case, not just the result, is going to be very impactful for how Second Amendment cases are decided going forward.”
In 2019, Rahimi, a convicted drug dealer, assaulted a girlfriend with whom he has a child, in Arlington. His threat to harm her if she talked about it prompted her to obtain a restraining order. That order suspended his handgun permit and right to possess any firearms, but he subsequently threatened another woman and also fired his gun in public multiple times.
“You don’t have any doubt that your client is a dangerous person, do you?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked Rahimi’s attorney, J. Matthew Wright, an assistant federal public defender from Amarillo.
Wright said it depended on what Roberts meant by dangerous.
“Someone who’s shooting at people, that’s a start,” the chief justice said, responding to Wright.
Rahimi pleaded guilty and is serving a six-year sentence.
The justices are considering how a sweeping gun rights case they decided last year affects the domestic abuse law.
On June 23, 2022, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen that the state’s license requirement for conceal carry in public areas is unconstitutional.
The new criteria — showing historic context for the restrictions from the time of the Second Amendment in 1792 — prompted Rahimi to appeal, claiming that the domestic order restriction on his gun possession was unconstitutional.
Rahimi initially lost an appeal before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals before the Bruen decision. After Bruen, the U.S. Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to hear the Rahimi case.
U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told justices that there is a historic argument for the country to take arms aways from people who are dangerous.
“That principle is firmly grounded in the Second Amendment’s history and tradition,” she said. “Throughout our nation’s history, legislatures have disarmed those who have committed serious criminal conduct or whose access to guns poses a danger.”
Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that lawmakers can make decisions consistent with the Second Amendment gun rights and also call for disarming dangerous individuals.
“Someone who poses a risk of domestic violence is dangerous,” Coney Barrett said.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson raised the question of whether domestic violence would even have been an issue looking at the historic argument, saying that the laws were written for “white, Protestant men” and not for protecting women.
Justice Elena Kagan told Rahimi’s attorney, “The problem of domestic violence was conceived very differently” at the time of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
“People had different understandings with respect to pretty well every aspect of the problem,” she said.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh worried that a court decision supporting the Texas case could risk the background check system that the country relies on to catch dangerous shooters and domestic violence abusers.
Justices are expected to issue a decision by the end of their term in June.