Bush-appointed judge to hear both challenges to N.J. gun law

Move is blow for Murphy administration, which sought judge named by Biden

By: - January 13, 2023 12:28 pm

The decision marks a victory for gun rights advocates seeking to pare down New Jersey’s restrictions on where firearms can be carried. (Sergio Flores/Bloomberg, Getty Images)

A federal judge on Thursday moved to consolidate two cases seeking to pare down new gun restrictions recently signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, placing both cases before another judge who blocked some of its provisions earlier this week.

The decision marks a victory for gun rights advocates challenging parts of New Jersey’s restrictions on where firearms can be carried and who argued that Judge Renee Marie Bumb, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, should preside over both cases.

Bumb on Monday enjoined portions of the law that barred firearms in libraries and museums, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, entertainment facilities like stadiums and concert venues, and all private property where owners had not expressly consented to allow firearms.

“New Jersey’s law blocking right to carry is going down in a flaming ash heap, and today’s action was a step in that process. Governor Murphy needs to stop trampling citizens’ rights and instead crack down on actual criminals if he ever hopes to hold higher office outside of New Jersey,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs.

The association is a plaintiff in Siegel v. Platkin, a broad challenge to the gun law seeking to invalidate a larger number of restrictions, including prohibitions on firearms in casinos, schools, and parks that have existed for decades.

The state had argued the cases should fall before Judge Karen Williams, an appointee of President Joe Biden presiding over Siegel because the case before her was filed first — by minutes — and was the more expansive challenge to the law. Both complaints were filed on Dec. 22, the day Murphy signed the bill into law.

But attorneys for Aaron Siegel and the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs argued that consolidating the cases into the other case — Koons v. Reynolds — would be the more efficient option because Bumb had already done the research needed to issue temporary restraints in that case.

A spokesperson for the governor did not return a request seeking comment, and a spokesperson for Platkin declined to comment. It’s not clear whether the state will seek to appeal the temporary restraining order Bumb issued Monday.

Courts consolidate cases to more efficiently use judiciary resources and prevent duplicative rulings that can conflict with one another.

The state had sought to consolidate Koons v. Reynolds, the narrower challenge, under Williams and argued in its filings that Bumb’s decision to temporarily enjoin parts of the law cut against the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, which bounded how restrictive states’ concealed carry laws could be but allowed for limits “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Platin and a Murphy spokesman alleged Bumb misapplied the Supreme Court ruling by rejecting as precedent a series of historic firearm restrictions from around the country and by improperly dismissing other historical laws as outliers.

The briefing schedule for the consolidated case remains unclear, though Daniel Schmutter, attorney for the Siegel plaintiffs, on Friday asked Bumb to rule on a broader motion for temporary restraints, charging her conclusions in the Koons case could be applied to the significantly broader restraints sought in Siegel.

That motion was delayed by the Koons restraining order, and Williams deferred a decision on it after hearing oral arguments Thursday, instead leaving it to Bumb’s discretion after she moved to consolidate the two cases.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.