Supreme Court Makes Decision About Domestic Violence
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued a broad interpretation of a federal law that makes it a crime for people convicted of domestic violence to be in possession of guns. The court did not consider an argument made based on the second amendment, saying that it only received a brief mention in the briefs they viewed, and was not worth going over again. Instead, the court viewed the term domestic violence and determined that it also included acts that “one might not characterize as ‘violent’ in a non-domestic context.”
The case they were hearing when making this ruling was one by a man named James A. Castleman. He is from Tennessee and was convicted by the state court of assault for causing bodily harm to the mother of his child. The court records did not disclose what exactly he did, or what the mother’s injuries were. However, when Mr. Castleman was indicted under the federal gun law, he made the case that this did not apply to him because his conviction was not classified as domestic violence. He argued that the federal law defines domestic violence as using physical force, and that the state law, of which he was charged, required no proof of any physical force.
This argument was enough to persuade a federal trial judge, who agreed, saying that one could theoretically violate the state law by goading/tricking someone into drinking a poisoned beverage. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (located in Cincinnati) affirmed the trial court’s decision.
But when the issue came to the Supreme Court, the judge’s unanimously reversed that decision though there were some differing opinions as to why. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote for six justices, said that the term domestic violence must be understood in a broader conception to include “seemingly minor acts.” She claims that the word violence usually connotes substantial physical force, but with domestic violence the abuse is not always substantial or largess. She did give examples of what might qualify as only domestic violence: pushing, grabbing, shoving, hair pulling, and “a squeeze of the arm that causes a bruise.”
Because Mr. Castleman pleaded guilty to “causing bodily injury,” the use of physical force that is serious enough to constitute domestic violence can be assumed according to Sonia Sotomayor’s majority opinion. There was, however, one judge in particular who did not agree completely with Sotomayor’s assessment of the case. Justice Antonin Scalia agreed that the federal law applied to Mr. Castleman, but he did not agree with the notion that domestic violence encompasses more acts than plain old violence does. He thinks that by broadening the definition of domestic violence that we are actually lessening the impact of the word. He is quoted as saying that “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.”
It is interesting to hear both Sotomayor and Scalia speak on this matter of domestic violence. I do feel that Sotomayor’s more comprehensive take on the word is effective, though, because even the smallest of physical actions can lead to one person being in control of another. And, the whole point of being violent towards your spouse or someone in your house is to exert your control over them and make them submissive. Sometimes even the smallest of actions can cause this to happen. The Supreme Court ruling, by holding Mr. Castleman accountable, shows that the United States understands the intricacies of domestic violence and how it comes in all kinds of forms; not just ones that are over-the-top and egregious.