Federal Judge Roger T. Benitez in California has handed anti-gunners another defeat by striking down the so-called “fee-shifting” section of this year’s new gun control law as unconstitutional, issuing an order permanently enjoining the state from enforcing the provision, known as Section 1021.11.
The case is known as Miller v. Bonta, brought by the Second Amendment Foundation, San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee, California Gun Rights Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc., John W. Dillon, Dillon Law Group, P.C., George M. Lee, Gunfighter Tactical, LLC, John Phillips, PWGG, L.P., Ryan Peterson and James Miller, for whom the case is named. Representing SAF and its partners are attorneys Bradley A. Benbrook at the Benbrook Law Group, PC and David H. Thompson at Cooper & Kirk, PLLC.
The ruling also applies to a virtually identical challenge involving the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, known as South Bay Rod & Gun Club v. Bonta. CCRKBA and the gun club are joined by the California Rifle & Pistol Association and several other plaintiffs.
“Christmas came early for Golden State gun owners and rights groups everywhere who find it necessary to challenge the state’s restrictive firearms regulations,” Gottlieb said. “Section 1021.11 would have penalized gun rights groups, and their attorneys, for having the courage to take the state to court.”
Attorney Donald Kilmer, who represented CCRKBA in its case, told Liberty Park Press via email, “We stopped California from undermining the 2nd Amendment through an attack on the First Amendment.”
In his ruling, Judge Benitez observed, “This Court concludes that the purpose and effect of § 1021.11 is to trench on a citizen’s right of access to the courts and to discourage the peaceful vindication of an enumerated constitutional right. Because the state fee-shifting statute undermines a citizen’s constitutional rights, it is this Court’s role to declare its invalidity and enjoin its threat.”
Elsewhere in his 17-page ruling, Judge Benitez wrote, “A state law that threatens its citizens for questioning the legitimacy of its firearms regulations may be familiar to autocratic and tyrannical governments, but not American government. American law counsels vigilance and suspiciousness of laws that thwart judicial scrutiny. The Supreme Court does not countenance such efforts by Congress.”
Judge Benitez, a George W. Bush appointee, opened his order by quoting the remarks of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has acknowledged this gun control legislation was a response to a Texas law (Senate Bill 8) dealing with abortion. Newsom simply tried to duplicate the Texas statute to apply to guns, and in the process, he called the Texas statute “cynical,” “an abomination,” “outrageous and objectionable,” while Attorney General Rob Bonta called SB 8 “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Newsom’s reaction tried to turn defeat into some kind of victory.
“I want to thank Judge Benitez,” Gov. Newsom said in a prepared statement. “We have been saying all along that Texas’ anti-abortion law is outrageous. Judge Benitez just confirmed it is also unconstitutional. The provision in California’s law that he struck down is a replica of what Texas did, and his explanation of why this part of SB 1327 unfairly blocks access to the courts applies equally to Texas’ SB 8. There is no longer any doubt that Texas’ cruel anti-abortion law should also be struck down.”
But that is not exactly what Judge Benitez said in his decision.
“The California plaintiffs-never-prevail provision is not insignificant,” the judge wrote. “And although both § 1021.11’s and § 30.022’s effect on court access should be constitutionally scrutinized, it is important to note that only § 1021.11 applies to laws affecting a clearly enumerated constitutional right set forth in our nation’s founding documents. Whether these distinctions are enough to save the Texas fee-shifting provision from judicial scrutiny remains to be seen. And although it would be tempting to comment on it, the Texas law is not before this Court for determination.”