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Noah Feldman

When Opposites Converge Over Domestic Violence

The Supreme Court upheld a federal gun ban for those convicted of state abuse laws. Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas worry that federal criminal law is overreaching.
Not that far apart -- sometimes.

Not that far apart -- sometimes.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/getty images

It’s not often that the Supreme Court’s most liberal and most conservative members are the only two justices dissenting from an opinion joined by the rest. But that happened in yesterday’s fascinating decision holding that a misdemeanor conviction for “reckless” domestic assault is enough to ban someone from owning a gun. The court’s majority was happy to interpret domestic violence expansively. For very different but overlapping reasons, Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed.

The case involved a federal law that makes it a felony to possess a gun if you’ve been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. Ordinarily, the federal ban on gun possession only kicks in if you have committed a state or federal felony. For reasons having to do with the dangers of a gun in a home where domestic violence has occurred, this law extends the ban to misdemeanor convictions.
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