At least one federal judge isn’t shy about telling the Supreme Court what he thinks of its recent lurch to the right, at least on the issue of guns.
Back in June, the high court’s six conservative justices struck down a New York state law that had stood for more than a century, which for the most part banned concealed carry of guns in the state unless individuals could prove the need to carry said weapon. The court’s decision in the case forced New York legislators, and New York Mayor Eric Adams to look for workarounds, but it also landed in the lap of federal judges in other jurisdictions, where gun rights groups (do inanimate killing tools actually have rights?) are seizing on the opportunity to challenge other gun restrictions.
But one of those judges, Carlton Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, is not with the shits, issuing an order taking the Supreme Court to task for a ruling that he says is poorly worded and leaves a steaming pile in the laps of lower court judges like himself.
“This court is not a trained historian,” Reeves wrote in an order released last week.
“The justices of the Supreme Court, as distinguished as they may be, are not trained historians,” he continued.
“And we are not experts in what white, wealthy and male property owners thought about firearms regulation in 1791,” he said.
The Bruen decision, he said, requires him to “play historian in the name of constitutional adjudication.”
While Reeves’ commentary was specific to a case over which he’s presiding about the constitutionality of gun regulations, it’s hard to ignore the broader reach of his reasoning. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority in Bruen, the case challenging New York’s gun restrictions, was decided along the same lines as their decision to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion. The Court’s conservatives are following an originalist reading of the constitution, which holds that pretty much nothing is constitutional unless the country’s founders—those wealthy, white males from 1791—explicitly said so, or at minimum judges can interpret what, exactly they thought on a given subject.
Of course, that’s ridiculously problematic for obvious reasons. The founders could never have imagined Reeves, a Black man, as a federal judge, much less anticipated that be ruling on the legality firepower that would have been unimaginable in their day being carried around in the waistbands of 200 million people. They couldn’t have imagined women voting, let alone having access to affordable and safe contraception or abortion. They couldn’t have even imagined cars, cell phones or carryout Chinese food places. Carrying around a cell phone that could instantly conjure a live video of someone thousands of miles away would’ve been branded witchcraft.
Reeves is a smart guy, as federal judges who haven’t gone full batshit tend to be, and he knows that the Supreme Court’s decision on guns was only the beginning of a slew of other cases likely to be decided over the next few decades along similar lines. He knows that’s a problem.
If only Clarence Thomas and co. were listening.