The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled by a margin of 5-4 that the stay on the lower court’s decision to vacate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) rule on the “Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms” (FINAL RULE 2021R-05F) will continue.
A District judge vacated the entire ATF’s frames and receiver rule in Vanderstok v. Garland when JSD Supply and Polymer80 intervened in the suit challenging the ATF’s authority. The government immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel of three judges stayed two parts of the lower court’s decision but left the third part that deals with unfinished frames and receivers vacated.
Instead of seeking an en banc hearing where the whole bench would hear the appeal, the government appealed directly to SCOTUS. Although it is usual for a defendant to ask for an en banc hearing, nothing requires it. In this case, the leaning of the court and its views on the ATF violating the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) meant there was no road to victory in the Circuit Court. The court ruled by a margin of 13-3 in Cargill v. Garland, which challenged the ATF’s rule banning bump stocks. The arguments in both cases are similar.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the progressive members of the court in extending the stay until the government files a writ of certiorari with the court. A writ of certiorari is a petition to the high court to hear the case. Just because the stay was extended doesn’t mean the court will take on the case. Justices Alito, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch would have lifted the stay.
The court ruled that the government must file for a writ of certiorari in a timely manner to avoid the stay from being lifted. If the court denies cert in the case, then the stay would immediately end.
Although disappointing for the Second Amendment community, this shouldn’t be seen as any indication of how SCOTUS will rule in the case or if the court will even grant cert. The stay is procedural. The court did not address the merits of the case or the likelihood that the case would succeed. It also doesn’t set a legal precedent that will affect other cases or even this case at the Circuit level.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will still have an opportunity to hear the case and rule on the merits. The court could still knock down the rule if it determines the case for the plaintiffs. Many on both sides of the debate believe that the Fifth Circuit will rule in favor of the plaintiffs.
The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), which helped bring the case, expressed disappointment but also highlighted that the court did not rule on the merits of the case.
“We’re deeply disappointed that the Court pressed pause on our defeat of ATF’s rule effectively redefining ‘firearm’ and ‘frame or receiver’ under federal law,” said Cody J. Wisniewski, FPCAF’s General Counsel and Vice President of Legal, and FPC’s counsel in this case. “Regardless of today’s decision, we’re still confident that we will yet again defeat ATF and its unlawful rule at the Fifth Circuit when that Court has the opportunity to review the full merits of our case.”
The current injunctions held by 80% Arms, Polymer80, and Defense Distributed remain in place.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.