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DOJ swipes at Supreme Court over gun ruling in partisan statement

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice press conference, June 25, 2021. (Department of Justice/Released)
June 24, 2022

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on Thursday finding New York’s restrictions on obtaining a concealed carry permit unconstitutional, the U.S. Department of Justice responded with a swipe at the court’s assessment.

“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the Second Amendment forbids New York’s reasonable requirement that individuals seeking to carry a concealed handgun must show that they need to do so for self-defense,” Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement issued by the department.

In her brief statement on behalf of the Justice Department, Iverson did not explain why the Justice Department disagrees with the Supreme Court decision. Iverson only added, “The Department of Justice remains committed to saving innocent lives by enforcing and defending federal firearms laws, partnering with state, local and tribal authorities and using all legally available tools to tackle the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our communities.”

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a New York law requiring those seeking a carry permit to prove they have a “proper cause” to carry a gun beyond a general desire for self-defense. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said, “New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.”

Other than New York, five other states require gun owners to prove their need for obtaining a concealed carry permit, including California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Maryland.

Thomas wrote that the “proper cause” requirement prevents eligible and law-abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense. He noted that the right to do so is protected by both the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

In Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s separate concurring opinion, he wrote that New York’s concealed carry licensing law was “constitutionally problematic because it grants open-ended discretion to licensing officials.” Kavanaugh wrote that states with “objective requirements” for obtaining a carry permit, including “fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, among other possible requirements” can continue, but states that allow “open-ended discretion to licensing officials” must change their policies.

The Justice Department doesn’t comment on most Supreme Court decisions, although they have done so in some instances. The department did comment in July of last year after the Supreme Court ruled in Brnovich v. DNC that laws passed in the Republican-controlled Arizona state legislature banning ballot harvesting and out-of-precinct voting do not violate the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department had not explicitly opposed those specific Arizona election laws, but President Joe Biden did criticize the Supreme Court ruling and the decision came just days after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging new election laws favored by Republicans in Georgia.

Without explicitly disagreeing with the Supreme Court in Brnovich v. DNC, the department said “The Attorney General has made clear, ‘the Department of Justice will never stop working to protect the democracy to which all Americans are entitled.’ The department remains strongly committed to challenging discriminatory election laws and will continue to use every legal tool available to protect all qualified Americans seeking to participate in the electoral process. The department urges Congress to enact additional legislation to provide more effective protection for every American’s right to vote.”

On Friday, the Justice Department again explicitly opposed a Supreme Court ruling overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion case, this time saying “the Justice Department strongly disagrees with the Court’s decision. This decision deals a devastating blow to reproductive freedom in the United States. It will have an immediate and irreversible impact on the lives of people across the country. And it will be greatly disproportionate in its effect – with the greatest burdens felt by people of color and those of limited financial means.”