Monday, February 25, 2019
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich (D.D.C.) denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction in their challenge to ATF's new rule banning bump-stocks. The ruling in Guedes v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives means that the ban can go into effect as the case moves forward; it also telegraphs that the plaintiffs don't have a strong legal case, or really any legal case, against the rule.
We posted on the complaint here, with some background. (The ATF rule defines a standard bump stock as a "machinegun" under the National Firearms Act. Under the rule, effective March 26, 2019, current possessors of bump stocks must either destroy them or abandon them at an ATF office.)
Judge Friedrich ruled that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. In particular, the court held that the NFA contained ambiguous terms (key parts of the definition of "machinegun," "single function of the trigger" and "automatically," are not separately defined), and under Chevron the ATF could define "machinegun" for itself. Moreover, the court said that the ATF didn't violate any procedure under the Administrative Procedure Act in adopting the reg. The court held that the plaintiffs' Takings Clause challenge should await future government compensation, instead of a preliminary injunction. And the court rejected the plaintiffs' statutory and constitutional challenges to Acting AG Whitaker's appointment:
The plain text and structure of [the AG Act and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act], however, demonstrate that they were intended to coexist: the AG Act provides a line of succession, and the FVRA gives the President discretion to depart from that line, subject to certain limitations met here.
As a constitutional matter, the plaintiffs argue that the Appointments Clause generally requires an acting principal officer to be either the principal officer's first assistant or appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. But that theory is foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent and historical practice, both of which have long approved temporary service by non-Senate confirmed officials, irrespective of their status as first assistants.
Separately, the plaintiffs argue that the Appointments Clause at a minimum requires the role of an acting principal officer to be filled by an inferior officer and not a mere employee. . . . Whitaker's designation under the FVRA was a Presidential appointment. And if the temporary nature of Whitaker's service prevented him from becoming an officer, then the President was not constitutionally obligated to appoint him at all.