The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States may have, on its face, ended the long national nightmare that was the Obama presidency, but his shadow lingers. Eight years of judicial appointees will haunt gun owners for decades, handing down decisions at all levels of the federal judicial system. Left-leaning judges, many of them Obama appointees, validated Obamacare, declared same-sex marriage the law of the land, and ruled against Californians wishing to arm themselves under an unfair licensing scheme. No matter where you stand on these individual issues, it is impossible to deny the lasting Obama influence on the courts.
To put things in perspective, when Obama took office in 2009, 10 of the 13 U.S. Circuits were controlled by Republican-appointed judges; when he left, that number was 4. Federal judges at the District, Circuit and Supreme Court level are appointed for life—there are no term limits, they can stay on the bench as long as they desire, often for decades. Though he served a single term that ended nearly 40 years ago, Jimmy Carter still has judges on the bench, including two liberal Supreme Court justices (Breyer and Ginsburg) that he originally appointed to United States Circuit Courts. Obama himself was quoted in The New Yorker as saying of Justice Ginsburg that “life tenure means she gets to decide, not anybody else, when she chooses to go.”
During his eight years in the White House, President Obama appointed (and the Senate confirmed) 325 federal judges: He placed two justices on the United States Supreme Court, 55 judges on the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals and 268 judges on the United States district courts. This doesn’t count appointments to the U.S. Court of International Trade or other “specialty” courts. Obama transformed the D.C. Circuit Court, where many constitutionally significant cases begin and from which Supreme Court justices are often chosen, from a 6-3 Republican split with two vacancies to a 7-4 Democrat advantage. Overall, more than a third of federal judges currently on the bench were appointed by Obama.
To many Americans, the choice in last year’s presidential election came down to who would appoint the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor to the Supreme Court. That was an incredibly important issue, but since nearly all federal cases never make it to the Supreme Court, the composition of the District and Circuit Courts could actually be more influential. With Congress in perpetual deadlock, many of the Second Amendment victories of the past decade have come from the courts, Heller being the greatest example. Regardless of the constitutionality of their arguments, gun owners and organizations such as NRA simply cannot prevail in these cases if the bench is stacked against them. Furthermore, when state legislatures pass unconstitutional gun control laws, the only remedy for relief is the courts. How would you like to challenge the constitutionality of a gun or magazine ban before a court of Obama appointees?
Changes in administration simply do not change the composition of the courts overnight. That process can take decades. Let’s take the Peruta case as an example: This case was a challenge to San Diego County’s de facto ban on concealed carry. A District Court judge ruled against those challenging the law. On appeal, an en banc panel of the 9th Circuit ruled that “there is no Second Amendment right for members of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.” Among the judges ruling against the gun owners, one was appointed by President Carter, five were appointed by Clinton, and one was appointed by Obama. The case was denied certiorari, by the United States Supreme Court in June of 2017, effectively validating the decision of the 9th Circuit.
Defeating Hillary Clinton and electing Donald Trump was a massive victory for the Second Amendment and the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is more good news for gun owners. That said, Barack Obama may be gone, but hundreds of his ideological surrogates remain in highly influential positions all over the nation as judges in the U.S. District, Circuit and Supreme Courts.
Gun owners beware.
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