The Other SCOTUS Case That's A Victory For Women

Of the Supreme Court rulings that came out Monday, Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt has earned most of the attention, as it's the most significant abortion case before the highest court in the land in more than 20 years. However, another decision was made by the Court with far-reaching repercussions for women's health and safety. In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld a law which prevents domestic abusers from owning guns. The ruling in Vosine v. United States found that "recklessly" (as opposed to intentionally) committed misdemeanor acts of domestic assault also triggered the statutory firearms ban.

The case stems from the Lautenberg Amendment, which was enacted by Congress in 1996 to "prohibit domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws from possessing guns," as Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her majority opinion. The courts previously interpreted this law to cover knowing and intentional domestic assault, meaning the facts of the case showed the defendant knew what they were doing and/or intended to commit the assault. However, what opponents of the law challenged was whether the firearms ownership ban extended to "reckless" assault — when the defendant didn't knowingly or intentionally cause harm. In Vosine v. United States, two men from Maine plead guilty to domestic violence misdemeanor crimes, but argued that their guns should not be taken away because their guilty pleas could have stemmed from reckless assault.

While this all sounds like a lot of legal wordplay, the case is notable in part because it involved Justice Clarence Thomas asking a series of questions from the bench during the February 29 oral arguments — the first time in 10 years he had asked a question. It's also notable given the link between guns and domestic violence. A 2003 study by the American Journal of Public Health found that when a perpetrator has access to a gun, there is an increase in intimate partner femicide. As Justice Kagan said in her opinion, quoting the 2009 case U.S. v. Hayes, "firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination."

Will this decision impact as many women's lives as Whole Women's Health? That's hard to say, but it does indicate that where domestic violence is concerned, the Supreme Court is willing to make firm decisions.