Friday, February 03, 2023

Bruen's Goose Continues To Not Apply to the Gander

The thing about the Fifth Circuit's recent ruling that the Second Amendment gives men under domestic abuse restraining orders an inalienable right to bear arms is that it is (a) insane and (b) absolutely defensible under the Supreme Court's Bruen decision. This is because the Bruen decision will regularly and predictably lead to insane results.

That said, I did want to flag something in the opinion that I've picked up on before -- namely, the inconsistent commitment to Bruen's supposed prohibition on weighing or considering "social policy" considerations. Judge Wilson, writing for the panel, expressly cites to this portion of Bruen, saying that while the prohibition on gun possession by domestic abusers "embodies salutary policy goals meant to protect vulnerable people in our society ... Bruen forecloses any such analysis in favor of a historical analogical inquiry into the scope of the allowable burden on the Second Amendment right." This principle is, perhaps above all else, the crux of Bruen's standard -- no matter how ridiculous, or absurd, or unfair, or chaotic the policy outcomes are, courts are not permitted to "weigh" them against the historical limitations that bounded the Second Amendment. The latter begins and ends the conversation.

Again, that principle is absurd. But it's Bruen's principle, and the Fifth Circuit gleefully cites it to explain why the prospect of terrified and murdered women can play no role in its legal analysis. But what happens if the historical arguments seem to counsel permitting more sweeping gun regulations than conservative jurists might like? All of the sudden, those social policy considerations come roaring back into view.

Addressing the historical precedents which did clearly envision government's authority to disarm "dangerous" persons, Judge Wilson explains that such exceptions must be narrowly construed so as not to apply to the case of domestic abusers. Why? Because, he asserts,

the Government’s proffered interpretation lacks any true limiting principle. Under the Government’s reading, Congress could remove “unordinary” or “irresponsible” or “nonlaw abiding” people—however expediently defined—from the scope of the Second Amendment. Could speeders be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms? Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle?

I take no position on whether the government's interpretation is so expansive. But note that this line of argument is expressly an analysis of the proper policy sweep of government regulation. We should tailor our interpretation of the Second Amendment's scope so as to avoid a policy outcome whereby too few people are guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms; to avoid an outcome where the government is permitted to disarm people who these judges think it would be manifestly unfair to have their gun rights taken away.

This is exactly the sort of policy analysis Bruen purports to forbid, only here the "policy" concerns are ones counseling in favor of greater freedom to bear arms rather than reduced freedom to bear arms. Perhaps it seems absurd to permit the government to take away arms from people just for getting a speeding ticket. But so what?  Bruen was emphatic that this sort of social policy assessment has no role in Second Amendment adjudication. If the historical analogues give the state that sort of latitude, then that is supposed to end the conversation. Again, it is baked in the Bruen cake that it will lead to results that may appear to modern eyes ridiculous, because Bruen expressly instructs courts that they aren't allowed to care about those consequences no matter how absurd they might seem to be.

But as the Fifth Circuit's ruling makes clear, the Bruen prohibition on weighing policy consequences is, unsurprisingly, a one-way ratchet. Conservative courts will portentously declare that Bruen forbids them from considering the disastrous consequences of countless terrified or murdered women if it means taking away domestic abusers' guns -- but if history and tradition start to point towards enabling gun restrictions that the right finds too onerous, then all of the sudden we get a screeching parade of contemporary policy horribles that are treated as legally dispositive. This is what generates such well-deserved cynicism about the state of the judiciary today -- it's not just that the legal rules the governing class of jurists announce are absurd, it's that these jurists do not even pretend to be bound by them the second they prove inconvenient to their underlying politics.

The other thing to note about this case is that, if the Supreme Court reverses it -- and they might -- their reasoning will almost certainly purport to be based on some alternate assessment and reading of the historical sources. But this will be a naked smokescreen, and everyone will know it. If the Court reverses the Fifth Circuit here, it will be entirely and solely because the Court finds it too unreasonable and intolerable to permit domestic abusers free reign to carry arms -- a contemporary policy judgment anyway you look at it, no matter how much effort is or isn't expended to cloak it in some faux-historical garb. None of these judges abide by the rules they purport to lay out.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Let That Be a Lesson For You, Part II

Way back in 2009, I wrote about a case in the Netherlands where an Arab NGO was prosecuted for hate speech after publishing an article insinuating the Holocaust was exaggerated. The thing was, the NGO did not actually think the Holocaust was exaggerated -- rather, it was trying to draw attention a claimed double-standard after Dutch authorities had dropped hate speech charges against right-wing Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilders for a film critics claimed insulted Muhammad. 

Drawing on entry #45 of advice for evil overlords ("I will make sure I have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in my organization. For example, if my general screws up I will not draw my weapon, point it at him, say 'And here is the price for failure,' then suddenly turn and kill some random underling."), I observed that when a non-Jewish far-right extremist engages in hateful speech towards Muslims, the proper response -- even if one believes in tit-for-tat -- is not to turn and attack some random other minority group (here, Jews).

In the files of "all that's old is new again", a similar situation appears to be brewing in Sweden, where a Egyptian writer has postponed (but not cancelled) a planned "protest" of burning a Torah scroll in front of the Israeli embassy. Why is he burning a Torah scroll in front of the Israeli embassy? Because a far-right Danish journalist and politician (who is not Jewish) recently burned a Koran in front of the Turkish embassy. A hateful and despicable act, to be sure -- but why is the response to awful behavior by a right-wing, non-Jewish Dane to attack the Jewish community in front of the Israeli embassy? Burning a Christian Bible in front of the Danish embassy would not be justified, but at least it would have symmetry. But for some reason Jews are always the random bystander executed in situations like this.

I also want to emphasize that local Jewish community leaders credit the prevention of the Torah burning to Muslim leaders in Sweden speaking out against it. This "protester" is a hateful schmuck whose hate happens to illustrate a particular form of pathology I wanted to highlight. Fortunately, he's a hateful schmuck in the course of being repudiated, and that's a good thing.

Endless Stunt Investigations is All the House GOP Will Do, Because It's All They Can Agree Upon

Having finally secured his chair as House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has given his caucus marching orders -- and those orders are "do nothing but launch petty performative investigations of the Biden administration".

Kevin McCarthy has told House Republicans to treat every committee like the Oversight panel — that is, use every last bit of authority to dig into the Biden administration. That work begins in earnest this week.

Several sprawling probes — largely directed at President Joe Biden, his family and his administration — set the stage for a series of legal and political skirmishes between the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s all with an eye on the true battle, the 2024 election, as Biden flirts with a reelection run and House Republicans hope to expand their control to the White House.

After two impeachments of former President Donald Trump and a select committee that publicly detailed his every last move to unsuccessfully overturn the 2020 election results, GOP lawmakers are eager to turn the spotlight. And their conservative base is hoping for fireworks, calling on Republican leaders to grill several Biden world figures, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, retired chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and presidential son Hunter Biden.

This isn't at all surprising, of course. In fact, it was probably inevitable after the Speaker vote fiasco exposed just how bitterly divided the GOP is (and how in thrall it is to its nihilist caucus). They're never going to forward an affirmative policy agenda, since they can't agree on any particulars beyond sloganeering (and also, policies tend to require money, which the GOP adamantly refuses to raise or spend unless it is on gut-busting upper-bracket tax cuts). But investigations? That doesn't require any policy agenda at all -- that's just mugging for the camera and talking about how much they hate Democrats. Right in their wheelhouse! 

That the GOP is still nursing ludicrous levels of grievance over the terrible unfairness of a House panel exposing why coups are bad only exacerbates their belief that this is naught but turnabout being fair play. And as the New York Times reported the other day, the GOP's view of "investigations" is to take it as a divine axiom that they and theirs are being abused, then pursue that axiom to hell and back no matter how little evidence ends up supporting the proposition.

So this is entirely within expectations for the new GOP House. Expect nothing but loud yelling investigations for two years as they throw everything they can at a wall and wait for something to stick. They don't agree on or even believe in anything else, but they can agree on doing that.