FEDERAL GUN LAW
In the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut, much has been made about gun control and the NRA’s obstinate role in the proliferation of firearms.
But in recent weeks another concerning role of the NRA has come into focus. As Linda Greenhouse points out in the Times, the NRA has begun to exert a significant — if not enormously disproportionate — influence over the appointment of federal judges. (see her article here).
This is how it works. The NRA for a long time has “scored” politicians on their gun rights record. To conservative Republicans this score is incredibly important — as many of them place a high priority on gun issues. Some even vote solely based on gun issues. Thus, to any Republican seeking office, it is imperative that they vote in a manner that will get them the highest possible score from the NRA. This means they vote however the NRA wants them to vote.
In the past the NRA has only scored certain types of votes — usually those with some direct relation to a gun issue. But, more recently, the NRA has expanded those issues that it “scores” to include judicial nominations.
As Greenhouse pointed out in her column, this started with the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. Even though she did not have a record on any serious NRA issues, the NRA opposed her and announced they would “count” the Senate vote on her nomination. As a partial result of this announcement, all but seven Senate Republicans opposed Sotomayor — despite her sterling credentials. While this kind of politicization of a Supreme Court nominee is hardly surprising, it may set a highly troubling trend for the future.
Following the Sotomayor effort, the NRA began to assert itself into other judicial nominations. First, it was Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, then the NRA set its sights on DC Circuit Court nominee Caitlin J. Halligan. It was highly unusual for them to go after a circuit court nominee.
What is next for the NRA? It certainly is possible they will try to exert their influence in the nomination and confirmation of U.S. district judges. This would be scary. It would mean that a group whose primary purpose is promoting the gun industry would become among the most important voices in shaping the federal bench. Hopefully it will never come to that, but who knows.