President Joe Biden’s (D.) pick to become the next Supreme Court justice is finding support among gun-control advocates.
All of the major gun-control groups praised the choice of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. The groups argued that while Jackson has no history of ruling on Second Amendment cases during her time on the D.C. Court of Appeals, they believe she aligns with their views on gun law constitutionality.
“President Biden not only made history nominating the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, but he’s also nominated someone who we are confident will determine that common sense gun safety laws are constitutional,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “Our grassroots army of volunteers across the country were proud to help elect the strongest gun safety administration in history, and today’s nomination shows the importance of that work. We look forward to supporting Judge Jackson’s nomination and call on the Senate to swiftly confirm her.”
Comments from the groups Brady and Giffords echoed Everytown’s reasoning. The gun-control advocates said they believe President Biden, who has long advocated for strict new gun laws and even sales bans for certain firearms, will choose a nominee with similar views. None offered any specific insight on Jackson’s own views about Second Amendment protections.
“Through his nominations to the lower courts, President Biden has demonstrated a commitment to appointing judges with diverse backgrounds and experiences who are committed to ensuring equal justice for all, not just the wealthy and powerful,” Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of the Giffords Law Center, said in a statement. “Judge Jackson’s nomination is consistent with this commitment, and the country will undoubtedly benefit from her service on the Court for years to come.”
“President Biden has chosen wisely,” Kris Brown, President of Brady, said in a statement. “We need a justice on the court who understands that there is no daylight between the right to bear arms and laws that protect Americans from the threat of gun violence and a justice who understands that the effects of our laws fall on Americans differently. While we look forward to hearing from her and those who know her in the confirmation hearings, it appears that Judge Brown Jackson is such a jurist.”
The trust in President Biden displayed by the gun-control groups comes as they have been publicly criticizing and pressuring him to go further in unilaterally imposing new gun restrictions. They have been unsatisfied with the lack of gun-control legislation at the federal level and some want the President to create a new cabinet-adjacent position to focus exclusively on gun violence. The support of gun-control groups during the upcoming confirmation process could prove valuable in the evenly-split Senate where President Biden will need to gain support of every member of his party–something he has failed to do in other confirmation fights.
Jackson’s appointment is unlikely to change the ideological makeup of the court unless she significantly departs from Biden’s restrained view of the Second Amendment. The Court has 6 conservatives who are generally supportive of expanding protections recognized under the Second Amendment while the 3 liberals are generally opposed to the idea. If confirmed, Jackson will replace Stephen Breyer who has been an opponent of expanding Second Amendment protections.
However, the 51-year-old judge’s appointment will be for life and the makeup of the court can change significantly over time.
Gun-rights groups expressed skepticism of Jackson’s views on guns. The National Rifle Association said they are wary of her lack of a record on guns. However, they cited President Biden’s support as a reason for concern.
“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has never affirmed that the Second Amendment protects the individual, fundamental right of all Americans to keep and bear arms for the defense of themselves or others,” the NRA said in a statement. “Consequently, the NRA is concerned with President Biden’s decision to nominate her to the Supreme Court of the United States at a crucial time when there are vital cases that will determine the scope and future of the Second Amendment and self-defense rights in our country.”
The Firearms Policy Coalition said they hoped Jackson’s time as a public defender might color her view of strict gun laws.
“Judge Jackson, who served for a time as an assistant public defender, should have first-hand experience of just how evil and corrupt the criminal justice system is, using coercive plea bargaining to avoid constitutionally required jury trials and putting people in cages for non-violent possessory offenses such as merely possessing common semi-automatic firearms or carrying a handgun without a license in New York, California, and other states where governments are openly hostile to the Second Amendment rights of peaceable individuals.”
Judge Jackson’s background on guns is sparse. She has not ruled on the issue while on the D.C. Circuit and was not asked about it during her in-person confirmation hearing. However, she did provide some insight into her thoughts on the issue in written responses to Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.). When asked how she would ensure Americans could feel confident she’d protect the Second Amendment, she promised to uphold previous rulings guaranteeing individuals their gun rights.
“As a sitting federal judge, I am bound to apply faithfully all binding precedents of the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court, including all precedents that pertain to the Second Amendment individual right to keep and bear arms,” Judge Jackson wrote. “If I were to be confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, that obligation would not change.”
When asked how she would evaluate a case against a covid-related shutdown of pistol purchase permit processing, something done by several localities during the onset of the pandemic, she would evaluate it “consistent with the binding precedents of the Supreme Court.” However, she said she couldn’t comment further on how she would decide such a case because several of the issues at play were being actively considered by the Court.
“As a pending judicial nominee and a sitting federal judge, it would be inappropriate for me to opine on the constitutionality of such firearm and religious-liberty restrictions while these issues are being actively litigated in the Supreme Court and other lower federal courts,” Judge Jackson wrote.
She also defended her record as a public defender when asked by Durbin if she was concerned her work may have resulted in “more violent criminals—including gun criminals—being put back on the streets.” Jackson argued her work was vital to ensuring the protection of individual civil rights.
“The primary concern of lawyers who work as public defenders is the same as that of the Framers who crafted the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution: that, in order to guarantee liberty and justice for all, the government has to provide due process to the individuals it accuses of criminal behavior, including the rights to a grand jury indictment, a fair trial by a jury of one’s peers, and competent legal counsel to hold the government accountable for providing a fair process and otherwise assist in the preparation of a defense against the charges,” she wrote. “The Constitution guarantees that every person who is compelled to enter into the criminal justice system by virtue of being accused of a crime will receive representation in the context of their interactions with government authorities, and attorneys in the federal public defender’s office perform this crucial function.”