The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review a federal law that bars an individual subject to a domestic violence restraining order from possessing a firearm, adding a major Second Amendment case to next term’s docket.
A federal appeals court invalidated the law in March in an opinion that critics said will make it easier for domestic abusers to obtain firearms.
The court’s move comes just a year after the justices issued a landmark opinion expanding gun rights nationwide.
After the justices issued that opinion, called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, lower courts began to reconsider thousands of firearm rules across the country, including the federal law at issue in the case at hand. A panel of judges on the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals cited Bruen and held that the statute “is an outlier that our ancestors would never have accepted.”
The Biden administration had moved with urgency asking the justices to take up an appeal of the decision.
Supporters of gun regulations and anti-domestic violence groups joined the Biden administration asking the justices to step in arguing that the lower court failed to appreciate the significance of “modern efforts to grapple with domestic violence.”
Under ordinary circumstances, once the Supreme Court releases a major opinion, the justices reject immediate follow-on cases so that the issue can percolate in the lower courts.
But Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court that the lower court decision at hand “threatens grave harms for victims of domestic violence.”
In 2019, nearly two-thirds of domestic homicides in the United States were committed with a gun, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. On average, 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner and up to 20% of violent deaths of intimate partners also involve deaths of children or other family members, the court brief says. In addition, as things stand, nearly half the states extended similar laws to reach dating partners, and 12 states include temporary restraining orders.
Lawyers for Zackey Rahimi, the man who was prosecuted under the law in 2020 after a violent altercation with his girlfriend, urged the justices to let the lower court opinion stand.
“Bruen is less than a year old,” Rahimi’s lawyer J. Matthew Wright told the justices in court papers. Lower courts are “just beginning to grapple” with the aftereffects of the decision so the Supreme Court should stay out for now, he added.
Douglas Letter, the chief legal officer of the gun-control group Brady, said he “looks forward” to the Supreme Court “correcting this terribly misguided ruling,” referring to the 5th Circuit.
“Prohibiting domestic violence abusers from accessing firearms is common-sense, life-saving, and constitutional,” Letter said in a statement. “Firearms are the most common weapons used in domestic violence homicides, with female intimate partners more likely to be murdered with a gun than by all other means combined.”
This story has been updated with additional details.