Rep. Bob Morgan: Extreme court case shows we must reform the US Supreme Court to tackle gun violence

Gun Rights

I’m the chair of the Illinois House Firearm Safety and Reform working group, and one of my top priorities is confronting the gun violence crisis. In Illinois, we have taken bold steps to save lives, including passing a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. Predictably, the gun lobby has sued to try to stop each and every gun reform passed in recent years.

To keep our communities safe, we need to not only beat the gun lobby in Springfield but also to ensure a fair evaluation of our laws when they are considered by the federal courts.

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This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that embodies the absurdity of this court’s approach to gun violence prevention measures. In United States v. Rahimi, the justices will decide whether to strike down a law that restricts gun ownership for individuals under domestic violence restraining orders.

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The Rahimi case exists today because the Supreme Court has already dramatically expanded rights to gun ownership, which has made it harder to keep our communities safe. Last summer, the Supreme Court caused chaos with its ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen by upending gun violence prevention laws across the country, even as guns have become the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens.

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In Bruen, the Republican-appointed justices introduced a new legal standard that requires judges to solely consider whether gun measures are “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition.” In other words, since domestic violence was fully legal in the 1700s, can this horrific act be a basis for removing a gun from a home? Yes, you read that correctly.

While we do not know how the Supreme Court will rule in this case, I do know that a Supreme Court that even entertains the question of whether the state can, or should, disarm violent abusers is a deeply broken one. A decision overturning the law in Rahimi would be disastrous, but if the justices are willing to capitulate to the National Rifle Association on this issue, imagine what is next.

Unfortunately, gun violence is not the only issue on which the Supreme Court has taken a turn toward the radical right. Americans were helpless to stop the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned the right to safe and legal abortion access. From partisan gerrymandering to attacks on voting rights and money in politics, the court has stripped away protections against some of the most corrosive threats to our democracy.

These extreme rulings are shocking, but they become less surprising when you consider how we got here. We have a 6-3 Republican-appointed supermajority on the Supreme Court today because Republicans blocked the appointment of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, an icon of conservative jurisprudence. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed that “the American people should have a say in the court’s direction.” These same Republicans then rushed to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat immediately following her death, after people had already started voting in 2020. Despite Republicans having lost the popular vote in the last five presidential elections, they control two-thirds of the seats on the Supreme Court.

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It’s not just about partisanship; it’s about money. The NRA spent millions to help confirm then-President Donald Trump’s hand-picked Supreme Court justices, who have proved to be reliable votes in support of any gun lobby demand. Disturbing reports from ProPublica have revealed that far-right megadonors have bought access to the justices with lavish vacations and trips on private jets and even directed government contracts and subsidies to justices’ families and closest friends.

Americans know the Supreme Court is broken. Polling shows that disapproval of the Supreme Court remains at historic highs.

As an attorney, I have been trained to revere and have trust in the role that the court plays in our system of government. But these Supreme Court abuses, endless stories of corruption and flagrant disregard for precedent cannot be ignored. We have no choice but to demand structural reforms to restore the Supreme Court to an institution that Americans can trust. Without accountability and court reform, Americans will wake up each day wondering how the Supreme Court has, once again, disfigured and dismantled their rights.

We need to act urgently for court reform to safeguard our democracy and our very lives. We need a binding code of ethics to restore integrity to the institution. We need term limits to end the chaos caused by lifetime tenure.

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While my fellow legislators and I work in Springfield to enact policies that keep our communities safe, we need our leaders in Washington to work on comprehensive plans to reform the U.S. Supreme Court.

State Rep. Bob Morgan represents Illinois’ 58th District.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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