C’mon, make up your mind!

Not long ago, the Supreme Court banned capital punishment for juveniles. In so doing it cited the laws of other countries as guides to interpretation of the US Constitution.

On April 26th, SCOTUS had another opportunity to deal with foreign law. In this case it reached an opposite conclusion: i.e., foreign legal decisions don’t count in interpreting US law.

The latter case involved a federal law that forbids felons to own guns. SCOTUS said that it isn’t applicable to those felons whose convictions were in foreign courts.

Adding to the irony is the fact that the man involved was charged in the US with illegal possession of a firearm, and his felony conviction in Japan was for smuggling guns into that country.

The court said, 5-3, that it did not believe that Congress intended the words “convicted in any court” to apply to foreign convictions. That is, foreign courts aren’t “any court”.

This is true in the trivial sense that a court in Japan is not just “any court”; it is a court in Japan. SCOTUS did not go so far as to claim that that is what Congress meant, they were more subtle:

“Congress ordinarily intends its statutes to have domestic, not extraterritorial, application,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. He was joined by John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, who is at the court’s political center and sometimes votes with the more liberal justices.

Breyer said there can be variations among nations in determining crimes and punishments. He said some nations punish conduct that U.S. law permits, or even encourages. He cited the former Soviet Union’s ban on private entrepreneurial activity. “These … considerations, suggesting significant differences between foreign and domestic convictions, do not dictate our ultimate conclusion,” he wrote. “They simply convince us that we should apply an ordinary assumption about the reach of domestically oriented statutes here.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that intent of Congress was that felons convicted in the court of a democracy do not get to own guns.

I also think it was the intent of some states that juveniles convicted of sufficiently heinous crimes be executed. I.e., “variations among nations in determining crimes and punishments.” are to be expected.

What I am certain about is that Congress didn’t intend for the Court to simply pick from a laundry list of alien legal precedent to support its wandering opinions.

As Justice Clarence Thomas noted, the decision means those convicted of murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, and terrorism can “possess firearms freely” in the USA. But if you’ve been convicted of Income Tax fraud, you can’t.

I wonder if this also means the guy gets to vote? Maybe the Justices should check on how they handle that in France.

1 thought on “C’mon, make up your mind!”

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