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[16days_discussion] US: Sweeping Ruling on Domestic Violence

16 Days Campaign 16days at
Thu Mar 27 14:14:22 EDT 2014

Dear All,

This is good news on gun control and domestic violence in the US:

  Sweeping Ruling on Domestic Violence

26, 2014

WASHINGTON --- The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a broad 
<> of a 
federal law that makes it a crime for people convicted of domestic 
violence to possess guns.

The court refused to consider a challenge to the law based on the Second 
Amendment, saying that argument had received only a "cursory nod" in the 
briefs. Instead, the court considered the meaning of the term domestic 
violence, with the majority concluding that it encompassed acts "that 
one might not characterize as 'violent' in a nondomestic context."

The case concerned James A. Castleman, a Tennessee man who in 2001 was 
convicted of assault in state court for causing bodily injury to the 
mother of his child. Court records do not say precisely what he did or 
what injuries the woman sustained.

When Mr. Castleman was indicted under the federal gun law, he argued 
that it did not apply to him because his state conviction did not 
qualify as a crime of domestic violence. Though the federal law defines 
a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" as one involving the use of 
physical force, he argued that the state law under which he was charged 
did not require proof of such force.

A federal trial judge agreed, saying one could theoretically violate the 
state law by tricking a victim into drinking a poisoned beverage. The 
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, 
affirmed the trial court's decision.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed that decision, though the 
justices disagreed on the rationale.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for six justices, said that domestic 
violence must be understood broadly to include "seemingly minor acts." 
The word violence standing alone connotes substantial force, she said, 
but that is not true of domestic violence.

She gave examples of what might qualify as only domestic violence: 
pushing, grabbing, shoving, hair pulling and "a squeeze of the arm that 
causes a bruise."

Since Mr. Castleman had pleaded guilty to having "caused bodily injury," 
Justice Sotomayor wrote, the use of physical force serious enough to 
amount to domestic violence could be assumed.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth 
Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the majority 

In a concurrence, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed that the federal law 
applied to Mr. Castleman. But he objected to the notion that domestic 
violence encompassed more acts than violence did, calling that an 
absurdity "at war with the English language."

Justice Scalia criticized Justice Sotomayor for relying on "law-review 
articles, foreign government bureaus and similar sources" for her 
broader definition. Such sources, he said, "are entitled to define 
'domestic violence' any way they want."

"But when they (and the court) impose their all-embracing definition on 
the rest of us, they not only distort the law, they impoverish the 
language," Justice Scalia wrote. "When everything is domestic violence, 
nothing is. Congress will have to come up with a new word (I cannot 
imagine what it would be) to denote actual domestic violence."

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a 
separate concurrence in the case, United States v. Castleman, No. 12-1371.

Does anyone know of any recent rulings elsewhere on this issue? Please 


The 16 Days Team
16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign
Center for Women's Global Leadership
School of Arts and Sciences | Rutgers,The State University of New Jersey
160 Ryders Lane | New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8555
Tel: 1-848-932-8782 | Fax: 1-732-932-1180
Email: 16days at | Website:
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