An attempt by the California Attorney General to shield the state’s novel fee-shifting law for gun suits from judicial review has been rebuked in court.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez ruled on Thursday that two challenges from gun rights groups to a novel California law designed to discourage Second Amendment challenges in the state are “not moot” and may proceed. California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D.) had argued the state’s voluntary refusal to enforce the law until a similar provision in Texas’s abortion law was upheld in court meant the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. But Benitez disagreed.
“If Defendant Attorney General committed to not enforcing § 1021.11 and entered into a consent judgment binding himself, his office, his successors and district attorneys, county counsel, and city attorneys, it might be a closer question,” Benitez’s order reads. “But that is not this case. In the meantime, the statute remains on California’s books. And the actual chilling effect on these Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights remains.”
The order represents a positive sign for gun-rights advocates looking to block California’s gun laws in court. The order means Judge Benitez, who has struck down several California Gun laws in recent years, will decide whether to grant an injunction blocking the law entirely.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, vowed to keep pushing the case until the law is struck down.
“California wants it both ways,” Gottlieb said. “The state believes the Texas abortion statute is unconstitutional, yet it adopted a gun control law that mirrors the language in the Texas law and contends it is legal. Obviously, Judge Benitez saw right through that flimsy sham and refused to moot our challenge of the California statute.”
Attorney General Bonta’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The legal controversy stems from the California legislature’s passing of Senate Bill 1327 earlier this year. The bill was designed to copy Texas’s controversial bounty-style abortion restriction by applying its logic to guns. The law allows California residents to bring their own lawsuits against companies or individuals that allegedly violate California’s stringent gun-control laws.
It also contains a provision designed to discourage Second Amendment challenges to the state’s gun laws in court. Under the law, state government officials may recover all legal fees incurred from gun-rights plaintiffs and their lawyers if they are unsuccessful on any claims made in a lawsuit, even if they succeed on others. California officials attempted to tie enforcement of that latter provision to the ultimate fate of a similar “fee-shifting” provision in Texas’s abortion law.
The court will next hold a hearing later this month to determine whether an injunction against the provision should be granted. Judge Benitez seemed inclined to strike down the provision in his Thursday order.
“The American court system and its forum for peacefully resolving disputes is the envy of the world,” Benitez wrote. “One might question the wisdom of a state law that dissuades gun owners from using the courts to peacefully resolve disagreements over the constitutionality of state laws.”