WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to weigh whether people accused of domestic violence have a right to own firearms in a case that will test the scope of recently expanded gun rights.
The justices agreed to hear a Biden administration appeal in defense of a federal law that prohibits people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns.
In doing so, the justices will examine how broadly they will interpret their landmark ruling a year ago, powered by the court's conservative majority, that for the first time recognized that the Constitution's Second Amendment includes a right to bear arms outside the home.
The case will be argued in the court's next term, which begins in October and ends next June.
The case concerns Zackey Rahimi, a drug dealer in Texas whose partner obtained a restraining order in February 2020.
During an incident in an Arlington, Texas, parking lot the previous year recounted by the federal government in court papers, Rahimi was accused of knocking the woman to the ground, dragging her to his car and pushing her inside, knocking her head on the dashboard in the process. He also allegedly fired a shot from his gun after realizing that a bystander was watching.
While the protective order was in effect, Rahimi was implicated in a series of shootings, including one in which he allegedly fired bullets into a house using an AR-15 rifle, the federal government says.
Rahimi faced state charges for the domestic assault and another assault against a different woman.
He was prosecuted separately by the Justice Department for violating the federal gun restriction law and, before the Supreme Court had issued its new gun rights ruling, argued that the case should be dismissed because of his Second Amendment rights.
A federal judge rejected the claim, noting that the law had previously been upheld. On appeal, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans initially reached the same conclusion.
Then the Supreme Court issued its decision last June in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which requires judges to focus solely on whether a law comports with a historical understanding of the Second Amendment.
As a result, the appeals court heard additional briefing and changed course, ruling in March that because of the expansion of gun rights, the law “fails to pass constitutional muster.”
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Biden administration, turned to the Supreme Court, said in court papers that the appeals court’s ruling was “profoundly mistaken.”
The decision “threatens grave harms for victims of domestic violence,” she said.
Even under the new standard, the law should be upheld, Prelogar said, because there is a long history of the government disarming people who are a danger to others.
Rahimi's lawyers urged the court not to hear the case, saying lower courts should be given more time to weigh the impact of last year's gun ruling before the high court intervenes again.
Last year's Supreme Court ruling led to a flurry of challenges to longstanding laws — both federal and state — and prompted some judges to find they are unlawful under the new standard. Other judges have upheld gun restrictions, creating divisions on the law across the country. The Supreme Court ruling has also led to blue states passing a new wave of gun laws in the hope that they will not fall foul of the court’s rationale.