Clarence Thomas swings divided Supreme Court in gun possession case

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Justice Clarence Thomas was the crucial vote on Thursday in a Supreme Court case involving a felon's challenge to the government's interpretation of the frequently litigated Armed Career Criminal Act.

In the case, a plurality of justices sided with Charles Borden, a Tennessee man, who had argued that crimes he committed in a reckless mental state did not trigger a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence, as required in the act. The decision meant that Borden, a felon who was found in illegal possession of a gun, was improperly convicted of a "violent felony" by lower courts.

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Justice Elena Kagan wrote the plurality opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Neil Gorsuch. Justice Brett Kavanaugh dissented, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Samuel Alito.

Only Thomas stood in the middle, not satisfied with either bloc. In the end, Thomas said he agreed with the outcome Kagan's opinion produced but that he took issue with how she got there.

"This case forces us to choose between aggravating a past error and committing a new one," he wrote. "I must choose the former."

In the act, a felony qualifies as violent if it involves “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” Kagan wrote that reckless conduct does not apply because of the way that the "against" phrase modifies the "use" clause.

Thomas, on the other hand, focused solely on the "use" clause.

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Kavanaugh noted the discrepancy in his dissent, noting that Thomas did not join the plurality in part because of his disagreement over Kagan's interpretation of the phrase "against the person of another."

The case marked the first of several coming decisions that could produce serious disagreement among the justices. In the next month, the court is expected to weigh in on issues such as religious freedom in the face of gay and transgender equality laws, as well as the future of Obamacare.

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Tags: News, Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Criminal Justice, Gun Violence

Original Author: Nicholas Rowan

Original Location: Clarence Thomas swings divided Supreme Court in gun possession case