United States v. James Alvin Castleman Amicus Brief in the United States Supreme Court

Michael Harless Firearms Law, U. S. Supreme Court

On December 23, 2013, our firm filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Castleman, in support of the grant of a petition for certiorari. This case involves the meaning of the term “physical force” contained in the federal law defining misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence (“MCDV”), popularly known as the Lautenberg Amendment

Passed in 1996, the Lautenberg Amendment makes it a federal crime for a person to acquire or possess a firearm after he has been convicted of a MCDV. An MCDV is defined as a crime that “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon.”

In this case, the government argued that “physical force” should be read as simply requiring “force,” of any sort. Once the statute is watered down in that way, the government argued that the statute should be read as invoking the common law meaning of assault and battery, which includes any nonconsensual, minor, slight offensive touching. But Congress expressed its desire to penalize violent men who beat their wives — not anyone who might push, touch or spit on a family member. Our amicus curiae brief points out that the word “physical” cannot be read out of the statute, based on the principle that each word in a statute must have its ordinary meaning.

The government argued that, if the statute was read the way it was actually written, then few if any state statutes would meet the federal definition at the time it was passed, since few require violent physical force as an element, and thus the MCDV ban would be a “practical nullity.” But, as our brief points out, it is not up to ATF or the courts to give the statute a different meaning to language chosen by Congress in order to give a statute wider effect. Moreover, after the Lautenberg Amendment was enacted, states were free to amend their laws, or enact new ones, in order to be covered by the federal law.

Finally, our brief argued that if the Court adopted the government’s broad understanding of what constitutes a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, serious constitutional implications would arise with respect to the Second Amendment and defense of “hearth and home.”

Our firm’s brief was filed on behalf of Gun Owners Foundation, Gun Owners of America, Inc., U.S. Justice Foundation, and Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund.

U.S. Supreme Court Docket

Link to brief