Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, who will be announced in a prime-time televised event Monday evening, has the potential to reshape a number of existing U.S. laws, including redrawing the lines on gun ownership in America.
It’s fair to say that outgoing Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy has been no ally in the effort to reduce the number of guns in the United States. He was the fifth and deciding vote on the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller case, the June 2008 Supreme Court decision that for the first time established that Americans have a right to keep a handgun for self-defense.
But advocates in the gun violence prevention movement – while not entirely sad to see Kennedy go – express no small amount of trepidation over who will replace him. The U.S. high court over the past several years has turned down opportunities to hear more gun cases, but they say that is likely to change with a strengthened conservative majority.
“The NRA is salivating over the chance” to have another Supreme Court pick,Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told ThinkProgress.
“My real concern about what’s going to happen on Second Amendment issues next year with the new justice is that the Court is likely to start taking more gun cases — that’s the part that I am troubled by,” Gardiner said.
The Washington Post reported last week that among the candidates Trump is considering for the lifetime high court appointment is Thomas Hardiman, a U.S. appeals court judge described by one scholar on gun rights as a “Second Amendment extremist.”
If seated, Hardiman — the runner-up to Neil Gorsuch for Trump’s first Supreme Court vacancy last year — would almost certainly ensure that the justices would take up controversial challenges to gun laws, and possibly would strike down many of them. Hardiman comes recommended to Trump by his sister Maryanne Trump Barry, who sits on the same court.
“He believes the government has very little leeway in regulating guns. He thinks the only types of gun-control laws that are constitutionally permissible are ones that existed at the founding,” Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, told the Post.
As John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown Against Gun Violence, wrote in an opinion piece this weekend for The Hill newspaper, “the N.R.A. is greeting this vacancy like Christmas in July.”
Gardiner was particularly incensed by the naked glee that the NRA has shown ahead of the announcement, including posting an ad on its website proclaiming that “our time is now” with an impending vote that is likely to strike down laws that limit the Second Amendment.
“Our time is now. This our historic moment to go on offense and restore American greatness… and put a pro-#2A majority on the Supreme Court that will defend individual freedom for generations to come.” –Wayne LaPierre #NRA pic.twitter.com/YEc25Te3gj
— NRATV (@NRATV) June 27, 2018
“What I read Wayne LaPierre saying is, this is political payback time, Mr. President,” she said, referring to how the gun lobby group plans to expand its influence after months of being on the defensive.
The NRA has been particularly beleaguered after a school shooting in February killed 17 people in Florida — most of them teenagers — which sparked mass, nationwide protests and led to a number of companies rushing to distance themselves from the NRA.
Even before that shooting, which tarnished the cause of gun rights activists, the NRA’s legislative gains over the years had been modest at best. As Everytown’s Feinblatt wrote in The Hill:
In case after case, the gun lobby has tried and failed to overturn common-sense gun safety laws, including background check requirements and bans on large-capacity magazines. Their latest setback came when the Supreme Court declined to review a federal court decision upholding California’s 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases.
In the wake of so many defeats, the NRA is counting on President Trump and the Senate to deliver them a Supreme Court Justice who will validate their increasingly radical and unpopular worldview. They are sure to pull out all the stops in support of nominees who would join with the court’s most pro-gun members and overturn years of established law.
TEN YEARS LATER: With this week’s news of an upcoming vacancy on the #SCOTUS, the ultimate prize is closer than ever: another chance for @realDonaldTrump to appoint a justice who will help reinvigorate Second Amendment jurisprudence for decades to come. https://t.co/oe7oLAcLzu
— NRA (@NRA) July 1, 2018
Elections matter! Thank you again to all #NRA members who got out and voted in 2016. Because of you, @realDonaldTrump is appointing the replacement to Justice #Kennedy who was the deciding vote in DC v. Heller. #ThankYou #2A #SCOTUS https://t.co/nw3kTegdyB
— NRA (@NRA) June 27, 2018
Trump will make his high court selection using a list curated by Judicial Watch and the Heritage Foundation — candidates who will have been carefully vetted for their views on a wide range of issues, including Second Amendment rights.
Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that the NRA in public statements has been gleeful about the prospect of Trump’s Supreme Court announcement and and the court’s impending shift to the right.