“Bubble Guns” In The Fourth Circuit Take Pot Shots At Heller In The Circuit’s Poorly Reasoned Opinion
THE KOLBE CASE: INTRODUCTION
On February 21, 2017, antigun establishment judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided a case—one directly and negatively impacting the Second Amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms. The case, Kolbe vs. Hogan, 813 F.3d 160 (4th Cir. 2016, rev’d, Kolbe vs. Hogan ____ F.3d ____ (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc), 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2930, is the latest in a slew of badly decided and badly reasoned cases coming down the pike since the late Justice Antonin Scalia penned the majority opinion in the seminal Second Amendment U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia vs. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008). What we are seeing are U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals openly defying the clear import and purport of Heller. We are seeing U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal—the Second, Fourth, and Seventh U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal—operating in open revolt to the U.S. Supreme Court on Second Amendment cases.
The high Court, in Heller, made abundantly clear that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is an individual right—a right unconnected to a person’s connection with a militia. Two years later, question arose whether the Heller decision applies to the States. The U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority in the case McDonald vs. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010), held that the individual right to keep and bear arms applies to the States no less so than to the federal government. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit obviously has clear disdain for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and, concomitantly, disaffection for the Heller and McDonald cases that provide a firm foundation for the Second Amendment’s preservation and provide welcome relief to those Americans who wish to exercise their right under it.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Where do we begin on our analysis of the atrocious decision of the Fourth Circuit in Kolbe. The import of this awful decision rests, first, upon the majority’s disregard for the precedential holdings of Heller and McDonald. The majority shreds the legal principle of stare decisis, which requires courts to uphold prior decisions lest the foundation of our system of case law fall apart. The import of this absurd decision rests, second, on the Court’s clear contempt for the explicit fundamental right of the people to keep and bear arms, codified in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And, this atrocious decision rests, third, on the majority’s clear rebuke of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s legacy.
WHY IS THE KOLBE CASE, IN PARTICULAR, CRITICAL TO THOSE WHO WISH TO SAFEGUARD THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS UNDER THE SECOND AMENDMENT?
Since 2008, when the Heller decision became the Law of the Land, there have been several cases wending their way up through the various Circuit Courts that have dealt directly or tangentially, and disparagingly, with the Second Amendment. What makes the Kolbe case so important to those Americans who hold dear the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that the decision openly defies Heller.
One, the Kolbe decision amounts to a direct, frontal assault against the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Two, the decision is a disrespectful and unrestrained attack on the methodology that Scalia employed when the Justice wrote his opinion for the majority in Heller.
Now, the Fourth Circuit, writing its damning opinion in Kolbe, won’t admit its denigration of the Second Amendment and, by extension, its disrespectful attitude toward Justice Scalia. After all, the decisions of the high Court are the Supreme Law of the Land, and lower courts, State and federal, are legally bound to respect and to apply rulings, holdings, and reasoning of the high Court.
HOW DO LOWER COURTS UNDERMINE RULINGS AND HOLDINGS OF U.S. SUPREME COURT CASES THEY DO NOT LIKE?
If a lower court doesn’t like a holding of the U.S. Supreme Court, it has weapons in its arsenal. Lower courts use these weapons against a U.S. Supreme Court holding if, one, the lower court disagrees with the decision of the high Court, and, two, if a lower court disagrees with the philosophy of law underlying the ruling of the high Court, and, three, if a lower court disagrees with the legal and logical methodology employed in support of the high Court’s ruling in a case.
One technique a lower court uses to undercut a high Court ruling is to argue a distinction in fact patterns. We see this in Kolbe. Of course, a reputable* court would attempt to discern similarities in the facts of a case before it, before the court goes hither and yon, denying obvious similarity in fact patterns. A lower court should give maximum effect to a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court but may feel less compelled to do so if it can, plausibly, demonstrate a distinction in fact patterns between the facts as presented in a case before the high Court and the facts as presented in a case being heard in a lower court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Kolbe opined that the facts of the Heller case are wholly unlike those in Kolbe. The Court is wrong.
Why do we say that the Fourth Circuit is wrong? First, the critical facts in Kolbe are in several critical ways, identical to those in Heller. A couple of Plaintiffs in Kolbe, as with the Plaintiffs in Heller, are individuals who are under no disability. They are average law-abiding, rational, sensible, sane American citizens whose right to own and possess firearms is undeniable. Second, the D.C. Government in Heller, and the Maryland State Government in Kolbe, both enacted laws to ban outright an entire category of firearms that American citizens traditionally and commonly employ for self-defense.
In our analysis of the Kolbe case, to follow, we will demonstrate how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit attempts to skirt clear U.S. Supreme Court precedent to ignore and undercut Heller and, in so doing, allows stand a restrictive Maryland firearms law that is unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Heller decision. The sad result is that average, law-abiding, sane American citizens who seek to own and possess firearms they had traditionally owned and possessed for decades, can no longer do so. Thus, notwithstanding that the gun ban enacted in Maryland applied originally only to residents of the State of Maryland and to those passing through the State, the Fourth Circuit decision directly impacts the right of American citizens in the five States that comprise the Fourth Circuit: North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, and Maryland. All individuals of these five States are now denied their right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed under the Second Amendment because they are denied their right to keep and bear an entire category of firearms they had traditionally owned—firearms that the American public commonly owns and possesses for self-defense.
Second, lower courts that harbor a strong disdain for the ruling in Heller and who thereby harbor a disdain for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, misconstrue—whether deliberately and callously or, if not deliberately and callously, then certainly carelessly and recklessly—the reasoning of the high Court. The lower court substitutes for the high Court’s reasoning, its own flawed reasoning—reasoning, that lends support to a conclusion the lower court seeks, rather than to the conclusion the high Court requires that the lower court reach.
In Kolbe, the Fourth Circuit applied a standard of review that the majority in Heller, and, in particular, Justice Scalia, who wrote the opinion, had rejected outright. We explain this in detail when we proceed with a comprehensive case analysis of Kolbe.
Third, lower courts that harbor a strong dislike for the Second Amendment and who attempt to meander around the clear and cogent reasoning, rulings, and holdings of the high Court often, in our estimate, consider matters wholly outside the purview of the law, namely political matters. If so, this clouds judicial judgment, as application of the law to the facts of the case is colored by personal biases and feelings rather than by reasoned, seasoned, Judicial thought. In the process, judicial neutrality and integrity is lost as partiality enters into judicial decision-making. Thus, the rule of law is denied one or the other party to a lawsuit.
As we proceed with our analysis, we make abundantly clear the extent to which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit considers matters, it appears to us, outside of legal constraints—matters that have no legitimate, legal, or, for that matter, logical connection to or bearing on how this Second Amendment case ought to be decided.
The dreadful decision in Kolbe, also operates as a warning to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee better get cracking on holding a confirmation hearing of the President’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. It must do so because the Kolbe case must not stand unchallenged. The antigun forces have slowly chiseled away at Heller through other poorly reasoned and decided cases. But, Kolbe is most dire because this decision, more so than other Second Amendment cases coming down since Heller and McDonald, constitutes a direct assault on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, and, if allowed to stand, unchallenged, severely weakens the Second Amendment and will undoubtedly embolden other antigun federal Circuit Courts that wish to chisel away at Heller.
Make no mistake, Plaintiffs in Kolbe vs. Hogan will take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. They must, for the decision here is antithetical with the holdings set forth and reasoning evinced in the seminal Heller and McDonald cases.
With Gorsuch on the high Court, the Justices will likely vote to hear this case. The Justices must hear this case. The case must be overturned, lest the legal precedents of Heller and McDonald be continually ignored by State Governments.
What is Kolbe vs. Hogan really all about and why are the issues presented in it critical to the safeguarding of our Bill of Rights? We explain in Part 2 of this series.
*CLARIFICATION AND QUALIFICATION: The Fourth Circuit Courts, as with Courts of any other federal Circuit, are Courts of competent jurisdiction and, therefore, is competent to rule on the legal and factual issues that come before it. The authors of this article do not intend to assert expressly or impliedly that the Fourth Circuit Courts or that the Courts of any other Federal Circuit are not competent to rule on the cases that come before them. The term, ‘reputable,’ is not and was not used here to impugn the honor of Fourth Circuit Courts and is not and was not directed to impugn the honor of any other federal Court. While we disagree vehemently with the decision and reasoning of the majority in the Kolbe case, we do admit that use of a term that would suggest that a Court might act dishonorably was wrong on our part, and for that we admit error and apologize for even suggesting the casting of aspersion on any Court. That said, we believe, as we will illustrate through a comprehensive analysis of the Kolbe decision and, eventually, in an analysis of similar decisions of various sister Courts–that political and ideological considerations pepper the reasoning and conclusions of many Courts as they wrestle with the core of the Second Amendment. The fact of the matter is, and we take this to be axiomatic, that every individual–whether judge, attorney, or layman–has a political philosophy, and it is clear to us that political philosophies are interjected into judicial opinions. We firmly believe, as we will show, in this multi article series, that legal precedent, which should be adhered to, often is not. Yet, if a Court wishes to overturn precedent, it should say so. Obviously, only the U.S. Supreme Court can legally overturn its own decisions. Lower Courts, State and Federal, must adhere to legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. We feel that the Fourth Circuit, in Kolbe, and certain decisions handed down by federal Courts in other Circuits, most prominently, in the Second, Third, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits, as well as the Fourth, have not abided by the holdings and reasoning of Heller and that this can only, and ultimately, be attributed to the insinuation of political philosophy into decision making–as much in judicial opinion, where we, unfortunately see it, as anywhere else. Since insinuation of political philosophy pervades Kolbe, and similar cases coming out of other Circuits, controversial though that statement may be, and as that is the underlying point of our criticism of Kolbe, we do not walk away from it, but embrace it.
Our Second Amendment is not to be toyed with. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is the defining feature of our American heritage, for it is the primary safeguard against tyranny, and it informs our Government that the American people control their destiny. Our destiny is not controlled by those who have been given, for a time, extensive authority. For they govern in our name, for our benefit. They do not govern in their own name, for their own benefit. Somewhere along the line, in the years that have gone by, that idea has been lost. It should be found. The Second Amendment encourages those who govern us that ultimate authority rests with the American People, and the Second Amendment is a constant reminder to those who govern us where it is that true authority rests. It is not through the First Amendment, as the Press has, itself, lost its way. It is not through the Fourth Amendment unreasonable searches and seizures clause, as that has been blatantly ignored, even unconscionably refuted by Government, as illustrated through Government’s actions. It is not through the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which have grown more tenuous, through time. It is only through the continued existence of the Second Amendment. And even the fundamental right to keep and bear arms is slowly but inexorably being whittled away, in spite of Heller–a case that exists to remind Government that some members of the U.S. Supreme Court intend for the American People to retain ultimate authority over Government and responsibility for their own lives.
Copyright © 2017 Roger J Katz (Towne Criour), Stephen L. D’Andrilli (Publius) All Rights Reserved.