In 'scorching' opinion, federal judge considers appointing historian to help him in gun case
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U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said he isn’t a trained historian, and neither are U.S. Supreme Court justices who ruled in June that gun regulations can’t be upheld unless they are consistent with historical tradition.
In an Oct. 27 order, Reeves said the Supreme Court’s opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen requires him to “play historian in the name of constitutional adjudication.” Yet neither he nor the justices are experts “in what white, wealthy and male property owners thought about firearms regulation in 1791.”
Reeves asked the parties in the gun case before him to submit briefs on whether he should appoint a historian to assist him as a consulting expert. CNN described Reeves’ opinion as “scorching.”
Reeves said historians even disagree on whether the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms, as the Supreme Court ruled in 2008, or whether it confers a more limited, collective rights to bear arms. And historians have been “unsparing in their criticism” of Bruen, he said.
Reeves is a federal judge for the Southern District of Mississippi who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. The case before him is a challenge to the federal ban on felons possessing firearms. Lawyers for Jessie Bullock contend that the law must be struck down because founding-era legislatures didn’t prohibit people such as him from owning guns simply because of their status as felons.
Law.com spoke with experts about Reeves’ opinion. One of them was Eric Ruben, a professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
“We’ve seen other opinions puzzling through what makes a historical analog good enough to support a modern-day regulation,” Ruben told Law.com. “We’ve seen splits where courts are reading the same historical record completely differently. And now we’re seeing a judge who is questioning whether or not lawyers can do this analysis at all. And I think it’s just a reflection of the fact that the Supreme Court in Bruen upheaved Second Amendment doctrine in a way that the lower courts are trying to sort through.”
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