New York Gov. Kathy Hochul criticized Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after the court agreed to consider next week whether it will hear an emergency challenge to the state’s concealed carry gun law that went into effect a year ago.
New York is one of several blue states that critics say is openly defying the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which struck down a New York gun law and held that there is a constitutional right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
On Sept. 26, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed the nation’s first state excise tax on sales of firearms and ammunition, which is scheduled to take effect in July 2024. The new law will almost certainly be challenged in court by Second Amendment advocates and could end up before the Supreme Court.
And on Sept. 9, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, issued a sweeping executive order on public health grounds suspending for 30 days open and concealed carry laws in Bernalillo County, along with a ban on carrying guns on state property.
Gazzola v. HochulOn Sept. 26, Ms. Hochul, also a Democrat, lashed out at Justice Thomas after learning that the Supreme Court had added the emergency application of Gazzola v. Hochul (court file 23A230), which was brought by licensed gun dealers, to the justices’ private conference scheduled for Oct. 6. The lawsuit is one of many now pending in the courts that challenge the state law.
“Defendant Gov. Hochul has made clear her current political position is anti-Second Amendment and that she intends to shut down the firearms industry. Hochul is abusing federally-licensed firearms dealers for political theater, using [state police] ‘Joint Terrorism Taskforce’ investigators to go out to dealer’s shops, unannounced, and start asking questions, including with customers present,” the application reads.
At the Oct. 6 conference, the court could overturn or ignore a Sept. 8 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit not to block the state law. The Supreme Court could also decide to treat the application as a petition for certiorari, or review, in which case at least four of the nine justices would have to vote in the affirmative for the case to be scheduled for oral arguments.
“Washington never ceases to amaze us, but we just learned in the last hour that Justice Clarence Thomas ... granted a request for an emergency conference in a case that is designed to dismantle New York's Concealed Carry Improvement Act,” Ms. Hochul said.
When the state gun law was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, the state immediately took action, she said.
“We passed another law, the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, in order to meet the dictates of the Supreme Court. In our opinion, it passed muster, it was effective, and of course because it works, it was challenged in court. So we had a reprieve a short time ago with Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor, but the next step is that Clarence Thomas has moved for an emergency conference to try and dismantle this.”
The docket also indicates that on Sept. 12, Justice Sotomayor denied the gun dealers’ request for a stay, without providing an explanation. The same day, the dealers refiled the application with Justice Thomas, who didn't rule on the stay request. At some point, he may have referred the matter to the full Supreme Court, but the docket doesn't say.
At her presser, Ms. Hochul continued: “They are dead set on placating their NRA donors and supporters, and we are the ones left to clean it up. ... And we don't want a situation where there's an incident, tempers flare, tensions rise, and instead of just a shove or an angry word, someone happens to have a concealed weapon on them. That is not the New York we envision, not the New York we want, and not the New York that we'll stop fighting for.”
Conservative JusticesMs. Hochul’s comments came as Democrats in Congress are escalating their verbal attacks on the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
Justice Thomas, a conservative, is facing growing pressure from Democrats, who accuse him of skirting disclosure rules, of corruption in general, and of being too cozy with wealthy Republicans. However, they’ve been unable to point to any specific court cases in which the justice has misbehaved.
Some Democrat lawmakers want Justice Thomas—who was appointed in 1991 by Republican President George H.W. Bush—to be investigated, while others want him to be impeached and removed from the bench.
Democrats have also been pushing the proposed Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act (SCERT) of 2023 (S.359), which was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
Mr. Whitehouse’s bill would direct the Supreme Court to issue a code of conduct governing its own members. It would also create a system allowing members of the public to file complaints against justices for violating the code of conduct or for engaging “in conduct that undermines the integrity of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Concealed Carry Improvement ActThe Concealed Carry Improvement Act that Ms. Hochul champions created huge “gun-free” sections of New York state.
The law, which has been heavily litigated in the courts, inhibits the public-carry right articulated in Bruen by designating much of the Empire State as so-called sensitive areas, or gun-free zones, making them off-limits to concealed weapons. Critics say there are so many prohibited places that it's hard for carry permit holders to go about their daily business in public.
Airports, establishments that serve alcohol, day care facilities and playgrounds, schools, entertainment venues, libraries, hospitals, houses of worship, polling locations, public demonstrations and rallies, public transit, and Times Square are on the list.
The law also frustrates the public-carry right by creating a “no carry” presumption for private property that can only be rebutted if the property owner posts signage saying concealed carry is allowed.
The law provides that carry permit applicants undergo a “character and conduct review,” in which they must provide access to three years of their social media accounts. The law’s supporters say such a review is needed because murderers sometimes hint at planned acts of violence before carrying them out—critics denounce the policy as Orwellian.
On Sept. 14, the state began tracking all ammunition sales. Local gun store owners have complained that the database administered by the state police doesn't work well, The Daily Gazette of Schenectady reported.
New York Assemblyman Robert Smullen, a Republican, told the media outlet that he was hopeful that the Supreme Court would “fully review the consequences of these unconstitutional gun laws on lawful gun owners.”
“This heavy-handed legislation has over-complicated the state’s system for conducting background checks," he said, "and it will leave irreparable damage in its wake for New York citizens who are simply exercising their Second Amendment rights.”