Biden Judicial Appointee Argued for 'Assault Weapon' Ban, but Can't Define One

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File

U.S. District Judge Nancy Maldonado has only been on the bench since August 2022 but Joe Biden is already trying to elevate her to a position on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

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Maldonado, a Harvard and Columbia Law grad, might be blessed with a first-rate legal mind, but during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Maldonado struggled and ultimately failed to answer a very simple question: what is an "assault weapon"? 

Maldonado professed not to be a "gun expert", but Sen. John Kennedy didn't accept her ignorance as an excuse, noting that it was her name that appeared on an amicus brief filed in support of Cook County, Illinois' ban on so-called assault weapons a decade ago. 

Maldonado repeatedly asserted that she didn't write or research the brief and can't remember the particulars of the county's ban. I'm not sure I could recall the details of every column I wrote or every interview I conducted ten years ago either, but here's the thing: bans on so-called assault weapons are still very much a live issue in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals thanks to Illinois' ban imposed at the start of 2023. There are multiple lawsuits in the Seventh Circuit at this very moment, and if Maldonado is confirmed to the appellate court she could very well end up hearing one of those appeals as part of a three-judge panel or an en banc review. 

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This is an issue that Maldonado can reasonably be expected to be knowledgeable about, in my opinion, and she should have been able to articulate what an "assault weapon" is, at least in her mind, in response to Kennedy's question. 

Does that mean she would have provided Kennedy with an answer that he found satisfactory? Absolutely not, and it's entirely possible that Maldonado chose to feign ignorance of her previous positions rather than get into a back-and-forth with one of the preeminent inquisitors in the Senate. 

I haven't been able to track down a copy of the Brady Center's amicus brief that Maldonado signed, but we know that it was fully supportive of Cook County's definition of an "assault weapon":

“(1) A semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a large capacity magazine[,] detachable or otherwise[,] and one or more of the following:

(A) Only a pistol grip without a stock attached;

(B) Any feature capable of functioning as a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand;

(C) A folding, telescoping or thumbhole stock;

(D) A shroud attached to the barrel, or that partially or completely encircles the barrel, allowing the bearer to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned, but excluding a slide that encloses the barrel; or

(E) A muzzle brake or muzzle compensator;

(2) A semiautomatic pistol or any semi-automatic rifle that has a fixed magazine, that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition;

(3) A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and has one or more of the following:

(A) Any feature capable of functioning as a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand;

(B) A folding, telescoping or thumbhole stock;

(C) A shroud attached to the barrel, or that partially or completely encircles the barrel, allowing the bearer to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned, but excluding a slide that encloses the barrel;

(D) A muzzle brake or muzzle compensator; or

(E) The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip.

(4) A semiautomatic shotgun that has one or more of the following:

(A) Only a pistol grip without a stock attached;

(B) Any feature capable of functioning as a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand;

(C) A folding, telescoping or thumbhole stock;

(D) A fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds; or

(E) An ability to accept a detachable magazine;

(5) Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder.

(6) Conversion kit, part or combination of parts, from which an assault weapon can be assembled if those parts are in the possession or under the control of the same person[.]” Id. § 54–211 (amended Nov. 14, 2006).

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I'd share the state of Illinois' definition of "assault weapon", but its handy guide to figuring out what firearms are covered under the Protect Illinois Communities Act is a whopping 85 pages, so I'll just link to that document instead. 

Like Kennedy, I'd love to know if either of these definitions is what Maldonado considers an "assault weapon", or if she'd go even further and state that any semi-automatic rifle that can fire more than ten rounds without reloading meets her definition as well. Maybe all semi-automatic long guns are "assault weapons" in her mind because they're "like" machine guns. That's the prevailing view in the Seventh Circuit at the moment, so Maldonado would have company if she concluded that the semi-automatic firearms banned under Illinois law are "military weapons [that] lie outside the class of arms to which the individual right applies.” 

Despite Maldonado's unwillingness or inability to provide Kennedy with answers to his questions, based on her past support for Cook County's gun ban (and her work with Brady) I think it is fair to say that, however she would define the term "assault weapon", she doesn't think that you or I have the right to own one. That alone is reason enough for the Senate Republicans and red state Democrats like Jon Tester (who's up for reelection this fall) to reject her nomination to the Seventh Circuit. Whether that happens is still an open question, but I have no doubt that if she is confirmed she'll be another jurist who'll inevitably conclude that the Second Amendment poses no threat or to any gun control law that's challenged in her jurisdiction.  

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