Federal judge strikes down California’s ‘fee-shifting’ gun control scheme, which echoed Texas abortion law

A federal judge has blocked the state of California from enforcing a gun control scheme that was modeled after a controversial Texas abortion law, delivering Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom the exact outcome he wanted. 

U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California issued a permanent injunction on Monday against the ‘fee-shifting’ provisions of the state’s gun law – which empowers private citizens to bring lawsuits against manufacturers of illegal guns – declaring it unconstitutional. 

”It is cynical. ‘It is an abomination.’ ‘It is outrageous and objectionable.’ ‘There is no dispute that it raises serious constitutional questions.’ ‘It is an unprecedented attempt to thwart judicial review,’’ Benitez wrote in his opinion, quoting directly from Newsom’s criticisms of the Texas abortion law. 

The Texas measure makes abortions illegal after a fetal heartbeat can be detected and permits private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone else who assists in a woman’s procurement of abortion for $10,000. This fee-shifting mechanism was designed to protect the 2021 law from judicial review to circumvent the Supreme Court’s old abortion precedent in Roe v. Wade. The high court has since overturned that precedent, permitting states to restrict, or liberalize, abortion. 

Newsom called on the California legislature to enact a similar law for guns days after the Supreme Court ruled than the Texas heartbeat law could remain in effect following a legal challenge. 

California’s gun law also creates a private right-of-action for citizens to sue gun manufactures who make ‘assault weapons and ghost guns’ for $10,000. Newsom described the law as virtually identical to the Texas provisions, but Benitez wrote that ‘California’s law goes even further.’ He observed that the gun control statute denies a prevailing plaintiff attorneys fees. Further, Benitez emphasized that only the California measure ‘applies to laws affecting a clearly enumerated constitutional right set forth in our nation’s founding documents.’ 

‘Whether these distinctions are enough to save the Texas law fee-shifting provision from judicial scrutiny remains to be seen,’ Benitez wrote. ‘And although it would be tempting to comment on it, the Texas law is not before this Court for determination.’ 

The judge’s order is likely to set up a showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the outcome Newsom desired. The governor’s office called it ‘hypocritical’ to block the state’s gun law while permitting the Texas abortion measure to stand.  

‘I want to thank Judge Benitez. We have been saying all along that Texas’ anti-abortion law is outrageous. Judge Benitez just confirmed it is also unconstitutional,’ Newsom said in a statement Monday. ‘The provision in California’s law that he struck down is a replica of what Texas did, and his explanation of why this part of SB 1327 unfairly blocks access to the courts applies equally to Texas’ SB 8. There is no longer any doubt that Texas’ cruel anti-abortion law should also be struck down.’ 

Fox News’ Landon Mion contributed to this report.

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