While Justice Clarence Thomas spent 63 pages in a 6-3 majority opinion Thursday spelling out why the Supreme Court struck down a New York concealed-carry law and changing the way justices will look at a series of other gun regulations in the future, his colleague Samuel Alito took a different tack.
In a sparse but unrelentingly caustic concurring opinion, conservative Justice Samuel Alito slammed his liberal colleagues for their dissent, criticizing them for trying to “hide” the specific issue the court had decided, and for making reference to the recent mass shootings that have shocked to the country.
The fact that Alito, who joined Thomas’ opinion in its entirety, also chose to attack only dissenters from the ruling highlights the current tension in the court caused by a blockbuster dossier and the unprecedented leak of a draft majority opinion in May that could overturn Roe v. Wade on abortion.
Alito authored that draft opinion, which, if upheld, is likely to provoke angry dissent from liberal justices. The abortion opinion could come as soon as this Friday. Already liberals and conservatives have openly discussed opinions. On Tuesday, for example, Judge Sonia Sotomayor ended a dissent in a religious liberty case that collapsed along ideological lines with this warning: “With growing concern about what this Court will take next, I respectfully disagree.”
Thursday was Alito’s turn: and in one case he had won.
In his concurrence in the gun case, Alito took on the liberal dissent written by Justice Stephen Breyer and joined Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan.
“Much of the dissent appears to be designed to obscure the specific issue that the Court has decided,” Alito complained.
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Alito criticizes the liberal judge Breyer for his arguments on the case of carrying weapons
Breyer began his dissent by focusing not on the gun law in question, but on gun violence in the country, noting in his opening line that in 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms. For Breyer, the most important part of the majority opinion was not how it got rid of New York law, but how it changed the framework courts should use to decide gun cases.
Rather than focus on a state’s reason for passing the law, the majority said courts should consider whether modern firearms regulations are consistent with the text of the Second Amendment and historical understanding.
Breyer said such an approach would hurt state efforts in a broader context, referring to the fact that 277 mass shootings have been reported since the beginning of the year.
“Many states have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who can buy, carry or use firearms of different types,” he said. Breyer. “Today, the Court places a heavy burden on states’ efforts to do so.”
Alito, in his concurrence, at first seemed to ignore the framework issue, stating that the only thing the majority had really done was repeal the New York law.
“That’s all we decided,” Alito wrote. “Our ownership decides nothing about who can legally own a firearm or what requirements must be met to purchase a gun.” Addressing Breyer, Alito wrote that “it is hard to see what legitimate purpose most of the dissent’s lengthy introductory section can serve.”
“Why, for example, does the dissidence believe it is relevant to recount the mass executions that have occurred in recent years?” asked Alito.
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But critics say Alito relied on the majority opinion, arguing that the court’s new test will apply to all gun laws in the future.
“Judge Alito is ignoring the fact that in addition to striking down New York law, the Court is announcing a new standard for Second Amendment cases unlike anything the court has applied before,” said Jonathan Lowy, Brady’s lead attorney. He said the new standard will apply to “every kind of gun law in the future.”
For Alito, New York’s law to hide possessions in court had an attenuated relationship with mass shootings.
“Does the dissidence think that laws like the one in New York prevent or deter such atrocities?” Alito asked.
“How does the dissent explain the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of your list took place in Buffalo? The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop the perpetrator,” Alito said.
He also criticized Breyer for using statistics on the use of weapons for suicides. “Does the dissident think that many people who have weapons in their homes will be stopped or deterred from shooting themselves if they cannot legally take them outside?” Judge Alito continued.
And he criticized Breyer for citing statistics on children and adolescents killed by firearms.
“What does this have to do with the question of whether an adult licensed to possess a firearm can be prohibited from carrying it outside the home?” he asked.
“Our decision, as noted, does not expand the categories of people who can legally own a gun and federal law generally prohibits the possession of a firearm by a person under the age of 18,” he said. The judge, who was appointed by George W. Bush, finally addressed a point he raised in oral arguments: the fears of law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves. He said the dissidents failed to understand those fears.
“Some of these people reasonably believe that unless they can brandish or, if necessary, use a firearm in the face of attack, they may be killed, raped or otherwise seriously injured,” he said.
He said that the “real drive of dissent” was that “guns are bad.”
Breyer, writing what could be one of his last big disagreements before retiring, fired back at Alito.
“I’m not just saying ‘guns are bad,'” he said. But he said balancing “legal uses” with the “dangers of firearms” is primarily the responsibility of elected bodies, such as legislatures.
“Judge Alito asks why I began my opinion by reviewing some of the dangers and challenges that gun violence poses,” he said. Breyer said he did so because “the question of firearms regulation presents a complex problem, one that must be resolved by legislatures and not the courts.”
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.