Judge Eunice Lee, nominated by President Biden to the Second Circuit, co-wrote a unanimous decision that partly reversed lower courts and allowed New York to continue to enforce key parts of a state gun safety law while the lawsuits go forward. Although the court upheld injunctions against some parts of the law, New York officials praised the appellate court’s decision.. The December 2023 decision was in Antonyuk v Chiumento.
What is this case about and what happened before it got to the court of appeals?
After the Supreme Court struck down New York’s gun safety laws in the Bruen case, the state enacted the Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA) aimed at enhancing gun safety consistent with the view of the far-right majority of the Court of the Second Amendment. The CCIA strengthens background checks and other aspects of licensing people to carry handguns. It also restricts or bans the carrying of guns in “sensitive places.” These include, among others, schools, parks, hospitals, and public transportation.
Pro-gun groups and others immediately challenged CCIA in several New York federal courts. The courts issued preliminary injunctions against a number of key provisions of the law while the litigation continued. These included some of the licensing provisions concerning demonstration of good moral character and several of the restrictions on carrying guns in public places, such as zoos, parks, places of worship, and airports. The state appealed the injunctions to the Second Circuit, while pro-gun groups argued that the injunctions should be expanded to stop even more of the CCIA.
How did Judge Lee and the Second Circuit Rule and Why is it Important?
Judge Lee and Judges Jacobs and Lynch (nominated by Presidents HW Bush and Obama) co-wrote a 261 page opinion that partly upheld and partly reversed the lower court rulings, authorizing the state to continue to enforce key provisions of the law as the litigation continues and indicating clearly that they are constitutional. With respect to CCIA’s licensing requirement, the court ruled that most of these provisions are constitutional, including the mandate that licensing officials determine whether applicants have the character, judgment and reliability to carry a gun safely, and that applicants submit information “reasonably necessary” to make that determination, such as information on other adults and children in applicants’ households. The court did affirm the preliminary injunction against a requirement that applicants submit information concerning all current and recent social media accounts held by the applicant as too intrusive and not justified by historical precedent.
Judge Lee and the court also reversed the preliminary injunctions and allowed the state to continue to enforce most of CCIA’s prohibitions on carrying guns in “sensitive” areas. These included medical and other treatment centers, schools, public parks and zoos, bars and other places that serve alcohol, theaters and conference centers, and gatherings of people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest or assemble. The court upheld the injunctions against enforcement of the law in other private places held open to the public like grocery stores and in places of worship where the worshippers want to carry a gun.
New York officials highly praised the Second Circuit decision. State Attorney General Letitia James explained it would “help keep New Yorkers safe” by preventing guns from getting into “dangerous hands” and “sensitive locations.” Governor Kathy Hochul applauded the rejection of “legal attacks from right-wing extremists” on the law. Although the litigation will continue, the decision by Judge Lee and her colleagues is critically important to gun safety in New York and to proper analysis of gun safety laws elsewhere after Bruen. In addition, the ruling is an important reminder of the significance of promptly confirming high-quality Biden nominees like Judge Lee to our federal courts.