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Opinion
Noah Feldman

What Being Reckless Means to Today's Courts

Supreme Court considers whether state domestic violence laws can keep guns out of offenders' hands.
Most states consider reckless domestic violence a crime.

Most states consider reckless domestic violence a crime.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Is it domestic violence if you didn’t mean to hurt your partner but recklessly did so anyway? Ordinarily, the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t weigh in on such a question, because the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence is determined state-by-state, not by federal law. But Monday the justices heard arguments on exactly that question, in a case involving a federal law that prohibits people convicted of domestic violence from having guns.

The argument has already made headlines because Justice Clarence Thomas broke a 10-year silence to ask whether any other laws suspend constitutional rights for misdemeanor convictions. Thomas may be contemplating a gun-rights opinion of his own in the case. But for the other justices, it’s a case about statutory interpretation. Behind the technicalities lies a rather profound question about what criminal law is meant to achieve.