Opinion |  Kathy Hochul: The Supreme Court Can Protect Victims of Domestic Violence

When my mother turned 70, she had unique birthday wishes. Instead of a party or cake, she told our family she needed our help to open temporary homes for domestic violence survivors and their children.

She sees this birthday present as the culmination of a lifelong struggle for survivors of abuse, a journey that began in the 1970s when using terms such as “battered woman” was commonplace, and survivors had few places to turn. A few months after my mother's birthday, Kathleen Mary House opened its doors – named in honor of her mother, Kathleen Mary, a domestic abuse survivor.

When I was born, my mother gave me the name Kathleen Mary, and her lifelong activism on behalf of survivors made a huge impact on me. The effects of domestic violence are not limited to one generation, and neither is our awareness of it. It's just one of the reasons I'm so concerned about the outcome of the upcoming Supreme Court case, United States v. Rahimi, who will decide next year whether to enforce gun safety laws that protect survivors of domestic violence.

The Supreme Court recently announced plans to hear Rahimi's case, which will likely depend on the court's recent Second Amendment decision, New York State Rifle & Handgun Association v. Bruen. In that case, a majority led by Justice Clarence Thomas overturned a New York carry-on law that had been on the books for more than a century – claiming 21st century gun laws should be consistent with an earlier time, when rifles were firearms. generally.

In doing so, the courts remove a vital tool I have as governor to keep New Yorkers safe. In New York, we quickly responded with action to try to prevent firearms more lethal than ever from flooding our communities, our businesses, our bars and restaurants, and even our crowded subway cars. One stray word, or sharp elbow, can have immediate, disastrous and life-threatening consequences.

Now, in Rahimi, the Supreme Court will decide whether lethal firearms can flood the homes of victims of domestic violence. Cases arrive in court after a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in favor of perpetrators of violence. The court of appeals ruled that the government could not prevent the abusive individual for whom the court had issued a domestic violence protection order from possessing a lethal firearm.

By overturning federal laws aimed at protecting abuse survivors, an appeals court advanced a legal theory of outrage that claimed individuals with domestic violence orders had a constitutional right to own guns. Using historical arguments that focus on Judge Thomas of Bruen as a precedent, the Supreme Court could rule that survivors of domestic violence today are only entitled to the protections they had in the 18th century — a time before most women could own property or work outside the home, let alone vote.

The stakes couldn't be higher. National Intimate Partners and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Sexual Assault Survey show that approximately 41 percent of women and 26 percent of men in the United States have experienced sexual violence, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner and report being affected by it during their lifetime. According to US crime reports, about one in five homicide victims is killed by an intimate partner, and more than half of female homicide victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner.

Here in New York, there are approximately 80,000 serious offenses such as assault, sex offenses, and protection order violations each year statewide, and data shows that in New York approximately one in five homicides is related to domestic violence.

The Supreme Court has a choice: It can lean on the dangerous Fifth Circuit theory that guns cannot be regulated for the purpose of protecting survivors of domestic violence, or it can enforce federal laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

Until oral arguments are heard, there is no way of knowing which way the Supreme Court will decide. The precedent set by Bruen is deeply troubling. But even within the majority of the courts in Bruen, there are divisions. Judge Thomas remains focused on historical arguments. But the approval by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, of which Justice John Roberts joined, left room for certain basic protections, noting that “properly interpreted, the Second Amendment allows for ‘various' gun regulations.”

This approval helped inform New York's response to Bruen. After New York State's century-old gun laws were overturned, I immediately took steps to restore protections from gun violence, including signing new laws to strengthen training and gun licensing requirements. In the spring of 2022, we support our state's red flag laws, keeping guns away from people such as domestic abusers who pose a risk to themselves or others, and closing the loopholes that allow tragedies in Buffalo and in Uvalde, Texas. As a result, courts have issued about 9,000 high-risk protection orders in the past year, up from 1,400 in the previous two and a half years.

Depending on the scope of the court decision in Rahimi, this protection can also be risky. After a brief spike during the start of the pandemic in 2020, New York has gradually and steadily returned to pre-pandemic shooting levels and has one of the five lowest firearm-related death rates. I've always said public safety is my top priority as governor, and I'm committed to using every tool at my disposal to keep our community safe from gun violence.

An extreme and unchecked Supreme Court put gun safety laws at risk in Bruen. Across America, survivors of domestic violence will now wait with dread to see whether Judge Kavanaugh and his colleagues deem the laws protecting survivors to interpret the Constitution “correctly.”

I can only imagine what my late mother would have had to say about this judicial assault on the survivors of this abuse. But in his honor, and on behalf of all New Yorkers, I will never stop fighting for justice.