Supreme Court Action: False Statements When Purchasing Guns and Article III Standing

The Supreme Court issued three opinions this morning.  The first is Abramski v. United States (12-1493).  Abramski purchased a gun for his uncle from a licensed gun dealer.  Abramski stated he was the “actual transferee/buyer” on Form 4473 which is required by law.  The form warned that someone buying a gun for another was not the actual buyer.  Abramski was convicted under two sections of the U.S. Code for knowingly making false statements “with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale” of a gun and for knowingly making a false statement “with respect to the information required … to be kept “in the gun dealer’s records.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction.

A divided Supreme Court upheld the conviction.  Abramski argued that federal gun laws are unconcerned with straw arrangements, especially considering that his uncle was eligible to make a legal gun purchase in any event.  The Court rejected these arguments stating that the context of the federal gun laws refer to true buyers rather than the straw.  Federal laws require in-person identification to keep guns out of the hands of prohibited purchasers by requiring background checks.  The same information helps law enforcement in investigating crimes by using these records to trace firearms to their buyers.  Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.  Justice Scalia dissented and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Alito.  Justice Scalia writes that the statute does not reach Abramski’s conduct.

The second case is Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus (13-193).  The case concerns Article III standing to challenge an Ohio law that criminalizes certain false statements made during the course of a political campaign.  Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission alleging the SBA list made false statements about him, specifically that when Driehaus voted for the Affordable Care Act he voted for taxpayer funded abortion.  Driehaus lost the election and the complaint was dismissed.  SBA challenged the law in federal court on First Amendment grounds.  Another party, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) also filed suit.  COAST said it was planning to disseminate similar information but held back because of the SBA proceedings.  The District Court said there was no concrete injury for purposes of standing or ripeness.  The Sixth Circuit affirmed on the ripeness issue.

The Supreme Court reversed.  It held that SBA’s allegations of an intention to engage in a course of conduct that invokes a constitutional interest but proscribed by statute, there exists a credible threat of prosecution.  That is enough to trigger Article III standing.  The threat of future prosecution is real as complaints had been filed against SBA in the past.  The threat of prosecution is not “chimerical,” a term sprinkled throughout the opinion.  The Court returned the case to the Sixth Circuit to decide unresolved issues not before the Court.  Justice Thomas delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

I’ll discuss the third case tomorrow.  It involves sovereign immunity when a foreign country, in this case Argentina, is sued in federal court.  –Mark

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