State seeks reversal of judge's ruling to block portion of new gun law that bans firearms in places of worship

Nov. 25—New York Attorney General Letitia James is asking the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn, "in each and every aspect", a decision and order by a U.S. District Court judge in Buffalo that blocks the enforcement of a provision in New York's new Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA) that bars individuals from bringing firearms into places of worship.

James' appeal to the Second Circuit court, filed on Nov. 15, stems from a lawsuit brought by a pastor from the Falls, and one from Buffalo, that sought to have the ban on the possession of firearms in places of worship, and the CCIA more broadly, declared unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge John L. Sinatra Jr., on Nov. 3, issued a preliminary injunction that barred the enforcement of the places of worship ban. Sinatra's decision on the preliminary injunction largely mirrored his order two weeks earlier on a request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) from Rev. Jimmie Hardaway Jr. of Trinity Baptist Church, 1366 South Ave., and Rev. Larry Boyd, of Open Praise Full Gospel Baptist Church on Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo.

Hardaway and Boyd filed their lawsuit in conjunction with two national pro-gun groups, Firearms Policy Coalition, of La Vegas, Nevada and Second Amendment Foundation, of Bellevue, Washington. Sinatra ruled that those two groups did not have legal standing to challenge the New York gun law.

In filing the appeal, James did not immediately ask the Second Circuit to stay both the preliminary injunction and the TRO. Attorneys for the state has asked Sinatra to grant a stay of his order, for just 3 days, in order to file their appeal.

Sinatra rejected that request, writing that "plaintiff's (Hardaway and Boyd) constitutional rights are being violated" and that "legislative enactments may not eviscerate the Bill of Rights. Every day they do is one too many."

The attorney general is expected to asked the Second Circuit, at some point, to put a hold on the preliminary injunction and the TRO.

The injunction and restraining order have effectively blocked the enforcement of the places of worship restriction in the CCIA, while Sinatra schedules further arguments and weighs the overall constitutionality of the place of worship restrictions and the entire CCIA based on the merits of the pastor's lawsuit.

Sinatra appears predisposed to declare the entire CCIA unconstitutional.

His 44-page decision and order on the preliminary injunction follows almost word-for-word and page-for-page, his 40-page decision and order on the temporary restraining order. In that order, Sinatra wrote that the state of New York had responded to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v Bruen, by enacting "even more restrictive legislation" than what the high court had declared unconstitutional.

"The court reiterates that ample Supreme Court precedent addressing the individual's right to keep and bear arms — from Heller and McDonald to its June 2022 decision in Bruen — dictates that New York's new place of worship restriction is equally unconstitutional," Sinatra wrote.

During earlier hearings and oral arguments in the case, Sinatra appeared dismissive and openly hostile to the arguments being made by lawyers for the state.

"In Bruen, the (Supreme Court) made the Second Amendment test crystal clear: regulation in this area is permissible only if the government demonstrates that the regulation is consistent with the Nation's historical tradition," Sinatra wrote in his decisions. "New York fails that test. The State's exclusion is, instead, inconsistent with the Nation's historical traditions."

James had sought to remove Sinatra from hearing the case. She filed a motion asking that the judge, who is also overseeing two other constitutional challenges to the CCIA, be reassigned

In that court filing, James charged that Hardaway and the other plaintiffs in the case were seeking a tactical advantage, sometimes called "judge shopping", by having the case directed to Sinatra, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

Sinatra refused the request to have the case reassigned, calling the other CCIA lawsuits "related" and saying that keeping all the cases before him "would avoid unnecessary duplication of judicial effort."

In the last two years, five new judges have joined the Second Circuit court, all appointed by President Joe Biden.

Hardaway, Boyd and the pro-gun groups brought their civil suit against Interim New York State Police Superintendent Steven Nigrelli, Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman and Erie County DA John Flynn.

After the preliminary injunction was entered by Sinatra, Flynn released a statement that read, "Effectively immediately, our office is prohibited from enforcing all of (the CCIA restrictions on firearms in places of worship) and the regulations, policies, and practices implementing it."

There was no immediate comment from lawyers representing Seaman.

James acts as the attorney for Nigrelli.

Hardaway and Boyd, who are both licensed to carry firearms in New York, and who have said they regularly carried guns in their houses of worship, prior to the passage of the CCIA, have argued that they will suffer "irreparable harm" if the places of worship restriction remains in place.

The Falls pastor maintains that his church has an "open-door policy" that carries risk over "who will walk in the door for services." Hardaway also claims that the "horrific murders" in 2015, of nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has "stiffened his resolve to carry for self-defense and to keep the peace at Trinity Baptist stronger."

Sinatra has maintained in his rulings that granting the TRO and the preliminary injunction, returns the status quo of "the Constitution and the Bill of Rights" and that if the CCIA were found constitutional, after a trial before him, "the Court could vacate any injunctive relief" and allow enforcement of the places of worship ban.

Such an outcome appears unlikely given Sinatra's initial written determination that the CCIA is unconstitutional and his assertion that "plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Second and Fourteenth Amendment claim."

Sinatra has refused to limit his ruling, at the request of the Attorney General's Office, to just Hardaway and Boyd's churches.