The National Rifle Association said Tuesday that it would actively oppose Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation if she is hostile to senators who press her about gun rights.
The letter marks a slight step forward for the group, which has still yet to say whether it flat-out opposes her confirmation or will count Judge Sotomayor’s Senate confirmation vote in its influential scorecard of lawmakers.
“The cases in which Judge Sotomayor has participated have been dismissive of the Second Amendment and have troubling implications for future cases that are certain to come before the Court,” NRA Executive Director Chris W. Cox wrote in a letter to senators Tuesday.
“Therefore, we believe that America’s 80 million gun owners have good reason to worry about her views.”
Judge Sotomayor’s supporters and opponents have stepped up their public efforts in the past week in preparation for the Senate confirmation hearings, which begin Monday.
The American Bar Association awarded Judge Sotomayor its highest rating Tuesday, continuing a string of endorsements from judicial and law enforcement groups.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and a group of national police officials released an analysis of Judge Sotomayor’s work on the appellate bench showing that she upheld criminal convictions in 92 percent of her rulings.
But on gun rights, advocates, including 14 members of the NRA board of directors, sent a letter outright opposing Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation.
“For the first time in the history of judicial confirmation fights, the Second Amendment community is playing a big role,” said Curt Levey, executive director for the Committee for Justice. “Because it’s the one community that can send red state Democrats running for cover, this letter and the grass-roots opposition to Sotomayor that it represents put her confirmation in doubt.”
With its voting scorecard, which moderate to conservative Democrats frequently tout in tough campaigns, the NRA holds a large amount of sway.
Gun issues have been an area where moderate to conservative Democrats have been more than willing to side with the Republican minority. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn’s amendment to permit concealed-carry in national parks won with the help of 27 Democrats who crossed the aisle to support the measure.
As part of a three-judge panel last year, Judge Sotomayor ruled against a man possessing nunchakus (or “nunchucks”) in New York. In the ruling, which was unsigned, the panel determined that while the Supreme Court struck down the D.C. gun ban, its rationale did not expressly extend the Second Amendment right to bear arms to the states.
Earlier this year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled comparably in a lawsuit seeking to strike down Chicago’s ban on handguns. The three-judge panel reached a similar conclusion as the Sotomayor panel, saying that the Supreme Court determined the Second Amendment right to bear arms is applicable only on federal land - including the nation’s capital.
But a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that the Second Amendment right to bear arms does extend beyond federal jurisdictions to the states, creating a “circuit split” among the federal appeals courts, which could lead to the Supreme Court reviewing any or all of the three cases in its next session.