Giffords Law Center Urges Judiciary Committee to Reject Nominee for a Lifetime Appointment on Federal Bench Because of his Record Advocating Dangerous Gun Lobby Positions

Washington, DC – Today, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject a nominee for a lifetime judicial appointment because of his record advocating for dangerous gun lobby positions that would undermine public safety laws.

In a letter to committee leadership, Giffords Law Center warned that the extreme views of Howard C. Nielson, Jr., up for an opening on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, and his absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment have consistently led him to push for the weakening of gun safety laws. With a history of working for the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, Nielson’s ability to remain independent and impartial in cases pertaining to the Second Amendment is in doubt.

Last month, Giffords Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) after the agency failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking records that would reveal the gun lobby’s role in directing the Trump Administration’s judicial picks to fill over 100 federal court vacancies, including the seat for which Nielson is nominated. Giffords Law Center is represented on a pro bono basis by Democracy Forward Foundation in the FOIA litigation.

“The federal bench, which makes decisions that will impact our country’s laws and society for the next generation, is no place for Washington lawyers doing the gun lobby’s bidding,” said Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “But due to steady pressure and financial support from the gun lobby, the Trump Administration has rubber stamped nominees for the courts with views that are dangerously out of step with mainstream America. In their rush to appoint Second Amendment absolutists who will back a radical gun agenda, the Administration has continued to block requests to prove the gun lobby has not influenced decisions on these nominees. It’s time for the president to be open and honest about the Washington gun lobby’s role in shaping the judiciary.”

In the letter sent today, Giffords noted that the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled that the right to keep and bear arms was “not unlimited,” yet Nielson has worked on cases to undermine public safety laws backed by Heller.

Nielson has made the following arguments for the NRA and other gun lobby groups:

  • The federal law barring handgun sales to 18-20 year olds must be struck down under the Second Amendment. Congress has barred federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to young people between 18-20 because they are four times more likely to commit gun homicides than older adults.

  • The Texas law that limits concealed carry permits to law abiding adults at least 21 years old must be struck down under the Second Amendment. The decision to not allow young adults to carry hidden, loaded weapons in public was derided by Nielson as unconstitutional; in a separate case, he argued it violated the Second Amendment to require a good reason to receive a permit to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public.

  • A city in Illinois was violating the Second Amendment by restricting access to military-style assault rifles and large capacity ammunition magazines that were used in mass shootings in Aurora, Newtown, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs. Neilson’s argument for the Illinois Rifle Association that these weapons were not “dangerous” and actually “safer” than other firearms was rejected by the Supreme Court and every other Court of Appeals that has considered similar restrictions on assault weapons and large capacity magazines.