Roberts Got Something Very Wrong in Rahimi Decision

Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool

The Supreme Court has been very good about gun rights of late, but the Rahimi decision is anything but an example of that.

While most people aren't upset that domestic abusers can't have firearms, there are issues with looking at Rahimi this way. There are a lot of issues with the decision as it stands.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision and Cam has covered the decision pretty extensively, but there's one particular bit that I feel obligated to talk about, a bit highlighted in a piece on the decision over at Politico.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — the most conservative appeals court in the nation — got slapped down by the justices again Friday. The high court overturned the 5th Circuit’s 2023 ruling that declared the gun law at issue unconstitutional, and in doing so, justices issued an unusually direct rebuke.

“Some courts have misunderstood the methodology of our recent Second Amendment cases. These precedents were not meant to suggest a law trapped in amber,” the chief justice wrote.

“The Fifth Circuit made two errors,” Roberts continued. One was to require the government to show a “historical twin” to the domestic-violence-related provision. The other was to dwell on “hypothetical scenarios” not involved in the case, like situations where a weapon was denied to someone due to an unjustified restraining order.

“That error left the panel slaying a straw man,” Roberts declared, even singling out one member of the appeals court — Trump appointee James Ho — for aggravating the mistake.

Now, I'm not an attorney nor did I play one on TV, but it seems to me those "hypothetical scenarios" are vital to the constitutionality of a case like this.

No one thinks Rahimi was a good person. Hell, Rahimi doesn't think he was a good person, from what's been reported. The fact that he was likely a domestic abuser isn't really a point of contention.

The point of contention is that he hadn't been convicted of anything at that point.

While he was likely guilty of what he was accused of, however, the unconstitutional nature of this law means that someone in one of those hypothetical scenarios that Roberts is so quick to discount would be impacted by the exact same law.

Our laws are supposed to work the same for the innocent and the guilty, with an emphasis on treating people as innocent until proven otherwise. The sins of the Salem Witch Trials should never be repeated, after all. That means assuming innocence.

This law, however, assumes guilt based on accusations alone. Yes, a judge issues the order, but we also know that judges will do that with just an accusation out of an abundance of caution, not because the evidence suggests the man in question is truly an abusive menace.

The "hypothetical scenario" isn't exactly hypothetical to an untold number of people who have been disarmed by these restraining orders based on almost no evidence beyond an accusation. It's not just men, either, for the record.

The Supreme Court has been pretty good on a lot of Second Amendment cases, but this is proof that we can't simply rely on the courts to protect our right to keep and bear arms. We need to win in the legislature when this stuff comes up in the first place. If not, this is what we get.

The courts are the last hope in defeating gun control laws, but we shouldn't pretend that it's a slam dunk, even with this Court.

Yes, I'm talking to myself as much as anyone else. Some cases are obvious, but my guess is that the conservative justices other than Clarence Thomas figured the backlash for ruling differently would be too much, and there's no guarantee that won't happen again.