Center for American Progress

In U.S. v. Rahimi, Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Domestic Violence Survivor Safety but Upholds Problematic Bruen Framework

In U.S. v. Rahimi, Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Domestic Violence Survivor Safety but Upholds Problematic Bruen Framework

On June 21, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that a sensible and effective gun violence prevention law protecting domestic violence survivors remains constitutional; however, the fact that survivor safety was compromised because of the politicization of the judiciary—and could be again in the future—should not be forgotten.

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The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., is shown at dusk on June 28, 2023. (Getty/Drew Angerer/)

On June 21, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision in United States v. Rahimi that a lifesaving law protecting domestic violence survivors from the continued threat of gun violence will remain constitutional under the Second Amendment. The federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), prohibits individuals under an active domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms and has proved effective in reducing intimate partner homicide rates in states by 27 percent.

History has a role to play in Second Amendment analysis, but a rigid adherence to history, (particularly history predating the inclusion of women and people of color as full members of the polity), impoverishes constitutional interpretation and hamstrings our democracy. Concurring opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Rahimi is an important flashpoint in the rapid politicization of the judiciary and illustrates the consequences of the far-right extremist Supreme Court majority’s willingness to upend legal precedent arguably to the detriment of all Americans, but to women and communities of color in particular. While this decision is an important victory, the threat remains that by upholding a new legal framework established in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, this Supreme Court majority could roll back critical state and federal gun laws that have protected American lives for decades.

Why this case is more about Bruen than Rahimi

The constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) would likely not have been questioned if not for the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2022 case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, which created a radical and arbitrary framework that prioritizes corporate gun lobby interests over people’s lives. Prior to the Bruen decision, the Supreme Court rarely struck down gun violence prevention policies, but a new test adopted under that ruling casts aside decades of legal precedent and eliminates the requirement of an “important governmental interest”—such as public safety—when determining the constitutionality of a gun violence prevention law; this requirement has been essential to upholding almost all firearm regulations in the past.

Instead, post-Bruen, a gun safety law will now be considered constitutional only if there is a similar law from roughly 1791—the year the Bill of Rights was enacted—to 1868. Notably, this alarming new test coincided with the arrival of a far-right extremist supermajority on the bench.

The ruling provides a pathway for post-Bruen cases on firearm regulation 

With most justices weighing in with individual concurring opinions, it is encouraging to see an acknowledgment that Bruen has become unworkable. The 103 pages of decisions provide some clarity to how the Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of firearm cases, but there is clearly disagreement among the justices. 

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts signals that a post-Bruen legal framework is broader than originally anticipated. He clarifies that that an exact match—or “historical twin”—to the challenged regulation is not required for that regulation to remain constitutional under the Bruen test; rather, it only needs to be sufficiently “analogous” to a law from the 18th century to pass constitutional muster. In the Rahimi decision, the court found that the existence of surety laws and the “going armed” laws were a form of “preventive violence” and that these laws are analogous enough to the spirit and intent of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8). The court explicitly stated that the government did not identify a founding-era or Reconstruction-era law that specifically disarmed domestic abusers—but that it “did not need to do so.” Therefore, because there is a historically analogous law that mirrors the shared principle to prevent violence to society, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) can remain constitutional.

Notably, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s concurring opinion, which Justice Elena Kagan joined, underscored the limitations of the Bruen test and an originalist framework to gun violence prevention.

Read more on originalism

Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion highlights that there were no laws that explicitly protected women and domestic violence survivors at the time of the ratification of the Constitution. In relying exclusively on the vision of the legal and political community at this specific point in U.S. history, upholding originalism would continue a cycle that would only further marginalize groups in the 21st century who were also marginalized in the 18th century. 

Still, individuals concerned about domestic violence and public safety must remain vigilant. The court left open many important questions that it will have to confront soon, as there are several related cases that have already split the lower courts.

To understand the threat posed by a far-right Supreme Court that is out of touch with the views and values of the American people, one only has to read Justice Clarence Thomas’s lone dissenting opinion. In addition to allowing domestic abusers to be armed, he suggests Congress doesn’t have the authority to pass reasonable and effective laws protecting vulnerable Americans. The majority opinion clearly stated, “Since the founding, our Nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms.” The Supreme Court’s decision should be met with a collective sigh of relief, but the grim reality is that domestic violence survivors will continue to be terrorized by gun violence.

No one is spared at the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence

Domestic violence is broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one individual to gain power and control over another. It can encompass physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, or technological actions, or threats of actions, or other patterns of coercive behavior that influence another person. As the data below show, domestic violence in the United States is “pervasive, deadly, and inextricably linked with firearms”:

In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children and teens, and many of these deaths are linked to domestic violence. In fact, nearly one-third of gun homicides involving children younger than age 13 in 2017 were related to intimate partner or family violence.

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The Supreme Court’s ruling upholding an essential federal law that protects survivors of domestic abuse is an important victory. By reversing the 5th Circuit decision that put domestic violence survivors at greater risk of being murdered with a gun, women and children in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas are safer today. Mississippi and Louisiana in particular have weak state gun laws and the two highest rates of gun violence in the country, so this decision will save lives.

However, it is important to stay vigilant against future decisions by an extremist Supreme Court that is willing to disregard hundreds of years of legal precedent and consensus. Rahimi was a particularly unsympathetic plaintiff with a disturbing history of violence and disregard for the law. This ruling leaves the door open to future litigation to weaken protections for domestic violence survivors, and the gun lobby will likely return with a more sympathetic plaintiff.

This decision should embolden Congress to push for stronger gun laws such as an assault weapon ban and increased gun industry accountability, combined with greater investments in addressing the root causes of violence. Policymakers also must do more to protect domestic violence survivors from the persistent threat of gun violence. In addition to fully enforcing this constitutional federal law by removing firearms from domestic violence situations, they must also provide survivors with access to more avenues for justice and accountability, including financial restitution, long-term shelter options, and restorative justice. We cannot place the safety and security of survivors in the hands of an activist Supreme Court.

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Sabrina Talukder

Director, Women’s Initiative

Nick Wilson

Senior Director, Gun Violence Prevention


Women’s Initiative

The Women’s Initiative develops robust, progressive policies and solutions to ensure all women can participate in the economy and live healthy, productive lives.

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U.S. Supreme Court building

This series explores the intersecting legal and policy issues at play in United States v. Rahimi by centering what is at stake: the lives of countless domestic violence survivors and the future of gun violence prevention policies in the hands of an activist Supreme Court.


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