Following the election of Donald Trump in November, we wrote a blog post about what President Trump means for New Jersey gun owners. If you haven't read it, I recommend reading it in full as there's A LOT he can do for us here. Briefly mentioned in the article we talked about his effect on the Federal Courts, but now we're going to go into greater detail about what exactly it means for New Jersey.
So after Trump was inaugurated last Friday he immediately inherited over 100 court vacancies to fill. Which is A LOT. Trump intends to use this to reshape the judiciary by appointing Scalia-like constitutionalists to fill these positions. But what we care about is how this will effect New Jersey. So lets start with a brief refresher on how the federal courts work.
There are three levels of the Federal judiciary system. District, Appeals, and the Supreme Court. New Jersey is its own district, with three different duty stations inside of New Jersey that takes cases in their respective counties. The Camden duty station takes cases from the Southern Counties, the Trenton duty station takes cases from the Central Counties, and finally the Newark station takes cases from the Northern Counties. Those three duty stations make up the New Jersey District courts. Any cases that get appealed from any court goes to the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd circuit, which covers New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the US Virgin Islands.
So now that we've had a refresher on the Court system, what is Trump going to do? Trump is immediately going to be able to appoint five justices that effect New Jersey. Three to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals and two judges to the District of New Jersey. (While writing this article another judge announced his retirement, bringing the total vacancies to three on the 3rd Circuit, formerly it was only two!) While those may seem like small numbers, they're a big deal.
The district level appointments are less important, but they do increase the chances of receiving a conservative judge to hear your case if you file in the Trenton Duty Station. The Camden duty station is actually 100% stacked with conservative judges already! The big enchilada though is the appointments to 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
Currently the split on the 3rd circuit Court of Appeals is a 7-5 split in favor of liberal judges. Trump's appointments will immediately create a 7-7 tie on the Third Circuit. Two of the vacancies were from liberal justices while the other was a conservative who announced retirement after Trump won. This new 7-7 tie greatly increases the chances of getting a majority conservative 3-judge panel when appealing a case. Increasing our potential for a good ruling on gun rights dramatically. The only potential trouble could be the blue-slip system, which could allow our two Senators, Menendez and Booker, to prevent court appointments. The blue-slip system effectively allows Senators to block court appointments to their state, but it's less of a rule and more of an honor system. But I suspect that the Senate Judiciary committee will tune out our Senators if they decide to obstruct Trump's Court appointments.
It gets better though. Two more liberal justices are going be eligible for senior status/retirement very soon. If they retire, the balance of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals would shift to a decisive 9-5 majority for conservatives. With a decisive advantage like that, the 3rd Circuit could rule on cases en banc in favor of gun rights. An en banc case is where the entire court of appeals rules on an issue where it disagreed with one of its colleagues 3-judge panels. So a situation like the Drake case could have been overruled by the entire Circuit, rather than having to appeal to the Supreme Court. This situation would have the potential to create some great precedent for gun rights in New Jersey.
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