The No-Brainer Supreme Court Decision You Did Not Hear About Today That Also Helps Women

Monday, the Supreme Court delivered an important ruling in Voisine v. the United States, Monday, determining in a 6-2 vote that people convicted of domestic violence are prohibited from buying firearms under a 1996 federal statute (§922) known as the “Lautenberg Amendment.”

Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito, finding “a reckless domestic assault qualifies as a ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence’ under §922. Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

As Amy Howe epxlained on SCOTUSblog, the case involved two men who were convicted of domestic violence in Maine, and subsequently arrested with firearms. They were charged with violating federal law under that statute. "The question was whether their convictions qualified under the statute," Howe wrote.

Thomas, who had not spoken during oral arguments for ten years, made headlines during Voisine, asking U.S. Assistant to the Solicitor General Ilana Eisenstein if “recklessness” warrants a “lifetime ban on possession of a gun, which, at least as of now, is a constitutional right." 

“Both men argued that they were not subject to [the statute’s] scotusprohibition because their prior convictions ... could have been based on reckless, rather than knowing or intentional, conduct and thus did not quality as misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence,” the Voisine syllabus explains.

In its decision, the Court was unswayed by the recklessness argument, finding that domestic violence is a violent crime that requires intent. "Reckless conduct, which requires the conscious disregard of a known risk, is not an accident,” Kagan wrote. “It involves a deliberate decision to endanger another.”

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