On Wednesday, March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered an important decision in the case of U.S. vs. Castleman, ruling that someone convicted of minor domestic violence offenses can be barred from possessing guns. Citing a brief in which Legal Momentum participated as co-counsel, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that ban gun possession by those who have been convicted in state court of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. As most of you know, Legal Momentum and our Lynn Hecht Schafran, Director of Legal Momentum's National Judicial Education Program, have been deeply involved with drafting and passing the original VAWA and its three reauthorizations.
The ruling was a victory for advocates for victims of domestic abusers and will save women’s lives, because the gun ban is critical in preventing the escalation of domestic violence—the presence of guns increases the risk of a survivor of violence being killed by 500%.
Writing the majority opinion, Justice Sotomayor held that Congress enacted the statute to close a loophole that meant those convicted of felony crimes of domestic violence had to surrender possession of firearms, while those who were found guilty of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence—though their underlying crimes were just as severe, but pleaded down to misdemeanors—did not. Sotomayor said it was enough that Castleman pleaded guilty to having "intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury” to the mother of his child.
Legal Momentum helped create the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and its several reauthorizations, and joined an Amicus Curiae brief in the Castleman case. We are thrilled with what this court victory will mean to survivors of domestic violence and are grateful to all of our supporters who make this important work possible.
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Legal Momentum is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1970 to advance the rights of women by using the power of the law and creating innovative public policy in three broad areas: economic justice, freedom from gender-based violence and equality under the law. For more information visit www.legalmomentum.org.