Upcoming Supreme Court case on GCA
Nice, obscure, facts. A component of GCA as it now stands is the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes an enhanced penalty (15 years in this case) for a felon in possession who has three prior violent felony convictions. It incorporates the GCA's definition of felony (offense punishable by a year or more, unless designated a misdemeanor and punishable by no more than two years; exception generally if civil rights have been restored).
Defendant was a felon in possession due to a drug conviction. He had three conviction for misdemeanor battery BUT because of his prior those were punishable by three years' imprisonment.
The trial court gave him the 15 years, reasoning (1) the three batteries count -- they were misdemeanors, but punishable by up to three years. And they were "violent," so they count. (2) The exception for having rights restored doesn't apply. (He couldn't have gotten civil rights restoration, simply because those are misdemeanors and those don't lose any civil rights). "Restored" implies losing something and getting it back, not a situation where you never lost anything.
Apparently there's a circuit split: the 1st Circuit went the other way on this. More thoughts in extended remarks, below.
The situation nicely illustrates different ways to interpret the same words (who ever said that law was a science?)
Textualism: hey, "restored" means "restored." The word has a perfectly clean and common meaning.
Intent: well, not so very helpful. As is often the case, nobody in Congress foresaw this issue. I'd be surprised if there is one word in the reports, floor debates, etc. that is any way relevant.
Pragmatism: Congress meant to set up a system where restoring rights meant a felony doesn't count. No big difference between that and never losing rights. So saying that a misdemeanor doesn't count helps the system to operate the way Congress seems to have meant it to operate.
OR pragmatism could go the other way: Congress thought restoring rights was important because a judge or other official had to assess the person convicted and make a finding that he could safely have a gun despite the conviction. That isn't done here, so three-year misdemeanors should count.