Stephen Breyer delivers a scathing and ‘ominous’ dissent in Supreme Court gun control ruling
On Thursday, June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen — striking down the “proper cause” part of the Sullivan Act of 1911 as unconstitutional. And Justice Stephen Breyer, was especially vehement in his dissent.
The Sullivan Act, passed 111 years ago and named after State Sen. Timothy Sullivan — a Tammany Hall Democrat — has limited licenses for concealed-carry handgun permits to those with specific defense needs. Under the Sullivan Act, a New York State law, anyone applying for a permit to carry a concealed handgun has had to show “proper cause.” And the High Court has ruled that the “proper cause” requirement is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment.
Attorney Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama and often appears on MSNBC, described the warning that opened Breyer’s dissent as “ominous.”
The 83-year-old Breyer, who is retiring from the High Court and will be replaced by President Joe Biden’s nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, later this year, wrote, “In 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms.... Since the start of this year (2022), there have been 277 reported mass shootings — an average of more than one per day.... Gun violence has now surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.”
Breyer continued, “Many states have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds. The Court today severely burdens States' efforts to do so. It invokes the Second Amendment to strike down a New York law regulating the public carriage of concealed handguns. In my view, that decision rests upon several serious mistakes.”
All three of the dissenters in the High Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen were appointed by Democratic presidents: Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan. After Jackson — who will be the first African-American woman on the Court — replaces Breyer, it will still have a 6-3 right-wing supermajority. And none of the GOP-appointed justices in that supermajority voted with the Democratic-appointed justices in the New York State ruling.
The majority opinion in the case was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, who was joined by three Donald Trump appointees (Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Neil Gorsuch) as well as two George W. Bush appointees: Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.
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