United States v. Castleman - Oral Argument - January 15, 2014

United States v. Castleman

Media for United States v. Castleman

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 26, 2014 in United States v. Castleman

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 2014 in United States v. Castleman

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We will hear argument next this morning in Case 12-1371, United States v. Castleman.

Ms. Sherry.

Melissa Arbus Sherry:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Section 922(g)(9) was enacted to protect battered women and children and to close a dangerous loophole in Federal law that allowed domestic abusers to possess firearms.

That loophole existed because many domestic abusers were only convicted of misdemeanor offenses, and the misdemeanor offenses they were most often convicted of were assault and battery crimes.

Respondent asks this Court to adopt an interpretation of 922(g)(9) that would indisputably exclude the assault and battery laws of almost all of the 50 States and the District of Columbia.

That would render the statute a virtual dead letter from the moment of its enactment until today, and it would leave that dangerous loophole wide open.

The statutory text does not compel that implausible result.

To the contrary, this Court ordinarily presumes that common law terms of art bear their common law meaning, and here, the common law meaning of force is a natural fit.

It makes perfect sense to define a--

Sonia Sotomayor:

I -- I'm a little bit concerned about going to that common law meaning.

Why don't you go to what the common law meaning of domestic violence is?

I thought that was your strongest argument.

Because isn't that different than just violence?

Melissa Arbus Sherry:

--Oh, it certainly is.

But the connotation of the phrase ‶ domestic violence ″ is very different than the word -- the word ‶ violence ″ standing alone.

Sonia Sotomayor:

Exactly.

Melissa Arbus Sherry:

And it's certainly different than ‶ violent ″ when it's modifying the word ‶ felony ″.

Domestic violence describes a broad spectrum of abusive behavior--

Sonia Sotomayor:

Misdemeanor domestic violence.

Melissa Arbus Sherry:

--Misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

So both the word ‶ misdemeanor ″ and the phrase ‶ domestic violence ″ is a broad spectrum of abusive behavior.

It's characterized by a pattern of escalating abusive conduct.

It may start with something like emotional abuse, include isolating the person from friends and family, include threats of violence, threatening to take away the kids.

And it--

Antonin Scalia:

Are threats of violence domestic violence?

Melissa Arbus Sherry:

--They are, not in this -- not with respect to this particular statute.

Antonin Scalia:

I hope not.

Melissa Arbus Sherry:

No, in this particular statute, Congress focused on a particular form of domestic violence.

It's well-accepted within the community that threats are a form of domestic violence, but Congress here--