Monday, February 29, 2016

Clarence Thomas speaks...

In the time since US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away another unusual event came up. Justice Scalia's colleague on the court Clarence Thomas speaks. Apparetnly for 10 years Justice Thomas isn't know for speaking his mind until today apparently.

If only TV cameras were allowed to record moments in the Supreme Court because unfortunately they don't allow this at all.

Anyway in the case of Voisine v US the Justice had some questions...
The oral arguments in the case appeared to be wrapping up early. Ilana Eisenstein, the assistant solicitor general, said to the justices, "If there are no further questions," long before her time had run out. Then Thomas shocked the courtroom by asking her whether she could think of any other example of where a misdemeanor criminal conviction could deprive an American citizen of a constitutional right for a lifetime—in this case the right to own a firearm, "which at least as of now is still a constitutional right," he quipped.

The question came directly from an amicus brief filed in the case by the Gun Owners of America, which weighed in to support the two petitioners, a pair of men from Maine who'd been prosecuted under the federal law for possessing firearms after being convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes.

The questions from Thomas left Eisenstein, who had looked about ready to sit down, a bit stumped—or perhaps just stunned because of their source. Thomas continued to press her, asking whether a misdemeanor conviction could deprive other people of other constitutional rights, perhaps under the First Amendment. "Let's say that a publisher is reckless in the use of children, in publishing indecent displays," he posited in a deep booming voice rarely heard in the chamber. ""Let's say it's a misdemeanor. Could you suspend the rights to ever publish again?"

The question elicited gasps, and sent reporters, who'd decided to sit out the sleepy case in the press office, running upstairs to the courtroom to see if more words would emerge from the normally silent justice. It was also so provocative that Justice Stephen Breyer, who frequently chats with Thomas during arguments, also jumped into press the issue, asking Eisenstein whether the court's decision in the controversial case, District of Columbia v Heller, might, in fact, create a problem for the government's case in defending the Lautenberg Amendment. Heller—"which I disagree with," noted Breyer—is the 2008 case in which the court, for the first time, recognized an individual right to own firearms and which overturned DC's strict gun control law.

Eisenstein concluded that Congress could not deprive a publisher of its First Amendment rights because of a misdemeanor crime, and that the law at issue in the case also did not fully deprive defendants of their Second Amendment rights either. States, she said, could still use their pardon power to restore gun rights to misdemeanants deemed worthy to get them back. She also pointed out that the petitioners in the case hadn't raised the constitutional question in their filings themselves, so it wouldn't necessarily be appropriate for the court to go there.
I don't follow the US Supreme Court often so I found this interesting. Now court watchers are going to expect to hear more from Justice Thomas. Let's hope that he only speaks when he has something to say and very important and profound.

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