Hochul Swipes at Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court Weighs Challenge to Empire State Gun Law

Gun Rights

Governor Hochul accused Justice Clarence Thomas of “placating” what she called “donors and supporters” following his announcement that the Supreme Court would consider whether the Empire State’s recently-enacted firearms restrictions conform with the Constitution. It was Justice Thomas who last year wrote a landmark decision striking down the state’s limitations on handgun ownership as an infringement on the Second Amendment.

Mrs. Hochul did not mince words about her disappointment and frustration with Justice Thomas, who she claimed was just trying to do the bidding of “donors” and “MAGA extremists” after he announced on Monday that the high court would consider an emergency petition from Second Amendment advocates seeking to end the state’s new gun law, known as the Concealed Carry Improvement Act.

“Washington never ceases to amaze us, but we just learned in the last hour that Justice Clarence Thomas — yes, the one and only — granted a request for an emergency conference in a case that is designed to dismantle New York’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act,” Mrs. Hochul said at a press conference Tuesday.

“The next step,” she added, “is that Clarence Thomas has moved for an emergency conference to try and dismantle this. They are dead set on placating their NRA donors and supporters, and we are the ones left to clean it up.”

Ms. Hochul’s swipe at the court’s longest-serving justice comes after a series of investigations conducted by ProPublica disclosing Justice Thomas’s connections to conservative activists and donors. 

The law in question, which for the most part has been in effect since December, set new rules for background checks on purchases of firearms and ammunition beginning on September 13. On September 12, Justice Sonia Sotomayor rejected gun rights organizations’ request that the order be placed on hold as legal challenges proceed through lower federal courts. 

“Stronger background checks for guns and ammunition, set to take effect on September 13, will continue to move full speed ahead, and the law requiring periodic onsite inspections of firearms dealers remains intact,” Mrs. Hochul said in a statement following Justice Sotomayor’s order. “Public safety is my top priority, and I’m committed to doing everything in my power to keep New Yorkers safe.”

The conference hearing with the nine justices will take place on October 6, just days after the high court convenes for its new term.

One Republican New York assemblyman, Robert Smullen, said in a statement that Justice Thomas made the correct decision in bringing this case to the justices’ conference. “This heavy-handed legislation has over-complicated the state’s system for conducting background checks, and it will leave irreparable damage in its wake for New York citizens who are simply exercising their 2nd Amendment rights,” Mr. Smullen said.

The concealed carry law was adopted last year, just days after the high court ruled that many of the Empire State’s longstanding restrictions on firearms ownership, licensing, and public carrying of guns were unconstitutional.

In response to that ruling, Mrs. Hochul and the Democratic legislature adopted new regulations that restricted where guns could be carried. The law barred the carrying of firearms in locations that they referred to as “sensitive places,” which includes public transportation, restaurants that serve alcohol, theaters, libraries, museums, and Times Square.

The law also required that New Yorkers seeking concealed carry permits demonstrate “good moral character” to local law enforcement, which acts as the issuer of those permits. Two federal district court judges would later strike down those two key provisions of the CCIA, saying it was not consistent with the Second Amendment. 

The landmark case that struck down New York’s 108-year-old law requiring license applicants to demonstrate a need for a concealed carry permit was New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen. In that decision, the high court held that such a requirement that application demonstrate that need was unconstitutional. 

In that majority opinion, Justice Thomas also set forth a new method of evaluating firearms regulation. All laws must be “consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding,” Justice Thomas wrote. 

That understanding of the Second Amendment and the attempts to apply such a method of interpretation has caused some consternation among lower court judges all across this country.

Judges have observed during arguments that they are not sure how to implement such a rule or when “historical understanding” begins — whether it be the moment of the Constitution’s ratification, the end of the Civil War, or some other set date in history. 

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