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June 16, 2014

Supreme Court Decision Day

The Supreme Court released decisions moments ago in Abramski v. United States and Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus.

The Abramski case raised the issue of whether Congress criminalized firearm straw purchases by means of a material statements law. Justice Kagan, writing for the liberal wing of the Court, plus Justice Kennedy, found that the "context" of the statute suggested that Congress did indeed intend to criminalize straw purchases.

The overarching reason is that Abramski’s reading would undermine—indeed, for all important purposes, would virtually repeal—the gun law’s core provisions. As noted earlier, the statute establishes an elaborate system to verify a would-be gun purchaser’s identity and check on his background. It also requires that the information so gathered go into a dealer’s permanent records. The twin goals of this comprehensive scheme are to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them, and to assist law enforcement authorities in investigating serious crimes. And no part of that scheme would work if the statute turned a blind eye to straw purchases—if, in other words, the law addressed not the substance of a transaction, but only empty formalities.

(Internal citations omitted). Justice Scalia writes the dissent, which argues that if Congress wanted to ban straw purchases, it should have said so.

The majority’s purpose-based arguments describe a statute Congress reasonably might have written, but not the statute it wrote.

BTW, this decision does not bode well for the Obamacare subsidies cases now-pending before the lower courts. If the Court will let prosecutors add to the gun laws because of "context," it will probably let HHS and Treasury add to Obamacare for the same reason.

You can read the decision here (PDF).

The SBA List decision is more favorable. In a unanimous decision written by Justice Thomas, the Court held that SBA List has standing to challenge the Ohio election speech ban. This was the rare case where the conservative justices, who generally disapprove expanding standing, agreed with the liberal wing that SBA List deserved its day in court.

You can read the SBA List decision here (pdf).

For the remaining Supreme Court cases this term, check out my guide over at the Federalist.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 10:30 AM

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