US Roger Benitez: Meet the federal judge who overturned California's decades-old assault weapons ban
Judge rules California's ban on assault weapons unconstitutional
In his decision, Judge Roger T. Benitez praised the AR-15 as a "home defense weapon."Judge Roger T. Benitez, who has favored pro-gun groups in past rulings, called the AR-15 rifle, used in many of the nation's deadliest mass shootings, "a perfect combination of a home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.
The federal judge wholast week opened his 94-page ruling with an eye-opening analogy.
"Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and
homeland defense equipment," US District Judge Roger T. Benitez wrote.
In another section, he downplayed the risk of an assault rifle being used in a mass shooting as an "infinitesimally rare event." He added: "More people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California."
Gavin Newsom Says Overturning Assault Weapon Ban 'Disgusting Slap in the Face'
Striking down the law, a federal judge in San Diego compared AR-15 style weapons to a Swiss Army Knife. "Overturning CA's assault weapon ban and comparing an AR-15 to a SWISS ARMY KNIFE is a disgusting slap in the face to those who have lost loved ones to gun violence," Newsom said."This is a direct threat to public safety and innocent Californians. We won't stand for it," he said.The case challenging California's assault weapons ban was launched in 2019 by James Miller and a political action committee (PAC) called the San Diego County Gun Owners, according to The New York Times.
Benitez has consistently ruled against California's gun control laws by using these sorts of attention-grabbing analogies. In aagainst the state's limits on large-capacity magazines, Benitez opened with the dramatic stories of three women who ran out of ammo while shooting home intruders -- none of which took place in California. In a page 5 footnote, he cited , the 1938 night of anti-Semitic violence in Nazi Germany.
So who is the 70-year-old man behind these rulings?
For gun rights advocates, Judge Benitez is a proper defender of the importance of the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.
"Unlike some appellate decisions in this area, Judge Benitez held the government to its burdens of proof, recognized the high hurdles the government must overcome when burdening the right to keep and bear arms, and gave the Second Amendment the weight and respect it deserves," Firearms Policy Coalition appellate counsel Erik Jaffe said about last Friday's ruling.
Federal Judge Roger Benitez Says ‘Assault Weapons’ Are ‘Anti-Crime Guns’ That Are ‘Perfect’ As ‘Militia Service’ Weapons
A U.S. District Court judge on Friday issued a 94-page opinion which overturned California's long-standing ban on certain guns deemed by state law to be "assault weapons." The post Federal Judge Roger Benitez Says ‘Assault Weapons’ Are ‘Anti-Crime Guns’ That Are ‘Perfect’ As ‘Militia Service’ Weapons first appeared on Law & Crime.(1) The AR-15 rifle is like a Swiss Army Knife.
At the same time, gun control advocates say he is less an impartial judge than a pro-gun advocate.
"Judge Benitez's decision displays a shocking misunderstanding of assault weapons and legal precedent and reads more like an NRA press release than a judicial ruling," said Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America. "Judge Benitez should spend more time learning about the impacts of gun violence on American communities and less trying to own the libs," he added.
In fact, Benitez has been a personally divisive figure from his early days on the bench. At aCongressional hearing on Benitez's nomination to the federal court of California, a lawyer said members of the California legal community had deeply negative comments about the judge.
"Interviewees repeatedly told me that Judge Benitez displays inappropriate judicial temperament with lawyers, litigants, and judicial colleagues, that all too frequently, while on the bench, Judge Benitez is arrogant, pompous, condescending, impatient, short-tempered, rude, insulting, bullying, unnecessarily mean, and altogether lacking in people skills," the attorney, Richard A. Macias,.
Assault weapons: The legal battle over them continues. What are they?
A federal judge has ruled that California's 32-year-old assault weapons ban is unconstitutional -- and that the state cannot limit civilian access to weapons he considered to be "fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles."A federal judge has ruled that California's 32-year-old assault weapons ban is unconstitutional -- and that the state cannot limit civilian access to weapons he considered to be "fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.
How he got to the federal court
Born in Havana, Cuba,and went on to get his law degree from Western State University College of Law in 1978. After two decades as a private attorney in Imperial County, he served as Imperial County Superior Court judge from 1997 to 2001 and then was a magistrate judge in the Southern District of California until 2004, . A CNN call to the judge's courtroom was not returned.
In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Benitez to a new federal judgeship in the Southern District of California created to alleviate an overwhelmed court system. He had been unanimously recommended by a judicial advisory committee made up of three people selected by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and three people selected by the Bush Administration.
However, the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary was not impressed with Benitez's qualifications and temperament based on interviews with 67 members of the California legal community. Afound him "not qualified," while a minority found him "qualified."
California appeals judge's ruling that overturned state's ban on assault-style weapons
California is appealing a federal judge's ruling last week that overturned the state's longtime ban on assault-style weapons, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Thursday. © Jae C. Hong/AP FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2018, file photo, Illegally possessed firearms seized by authorities are displayed during a news conference in Los Angeles. State authorities cleared 8.
Macias,in February 2004 about these concerns, said Benitez had consistently denied the accuracy of the criticisms.
"No such conciliatory comments were forthcoming from the nominee," Macias said.
An ABA spokesperson said the organization does not comment on nor criticize sitting judges.
In that same hearing, Feinstein introduced his nomination by citing his "impressive" life story. She also said she was surprised by the ABA's negative rating and that those who spoke to attorney David Casey, the then-president of the American Trial Lawyers Association, indicated differently.
"They say he is a man of the highest ethical standard, that he has superb demeanor, intelligence, pragmatism, and fairness. And the chief public defender notes that he has good judicial temperament and is courteous to his employees and the attorneys who appear before him,".
She asked Benitez about these criticisms during the hearing. He said the court he oversaw had a high volume of cases, and so he tried to keep the cases moving.
"And so perhaps sometimes because of the fact that we are trying to work with the numbers that we work with and may be perceived by attorneys -- perhaps those who don't know me, they may perceive the fact that I'm trying to move the calendar along as a sign of bad temper," Benitez responded.
California appeals ruling overturning state's assault weapons ban
California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) announced Thursday that an appeal had been filed against a judge's decision last week to strike down California's longtime ban on assault weapons.Last week U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez issued a ruling striking down California's 30-year ban on assault weapons, calling it unconstitutional and an overstep by the state government. In his ruling, the judge compared the AR-15 rifle to a "Swiss ArmyLast week U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez issued a ruling striking down California's 30-year ban on assault weapons, calling it unconstitutional and an overstep by the state government.
Benitez was ultimately confirmed by the US Senate in 2004 by a, with only Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, voting against.
His repeated rulings against gun control
In the past five years, Judge Benitez has made a series of rulings blocking parts of California's gun laws from going into effect.
In 2016, nearly two-thirds of California voters approved, which requires people to pass a background check to buy ammo and prohibits possessing large-capacity magazines, or LCMs.
However, in 2017, Benitez granted a motion for a preliminary injunction on the part of the law that banned possessing LCMs, which hold more than 10 rounds. And in March 2019, he ruled that this part of the law was unconstitutional and violated the Second Amendment.
"It criminalizes the otherwise lawful acquisition and possession of common magazines holding more than 10 rounds -- magazines that law-abiding responsible citizens would choose for self-defense at home," he wrote.
A three-judge panel upheld Benitez's ruling by a 2-1 vote in August 2020, but in February theand granted a rehearing to a full en banc panel of the court.
In addition, in April 2020, Benitez granted a preliminary injunction against the ammo background check part of the law, calling it "constitutionally defective."
"The experiment has been tried. The casualties have been counted. California's new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured," he wrote.
"With its newest over-arching and sweeping background check system, the State completely chokes off many law-abiding responsible gun owners while burdening all citizens who want to buy ammunition," he added.
The Ninth Circuit, meaning that the ammo background check law can still be in effect while it is reviewed further.
His ruling last week overturning California's assault weapons ban -- Swiss army knife reference and all -- will similarly be appealed, the state's attorney general told CNN. Still, for his critics, Benitez has proven to be a predictably frustrating thorn in their side.
"Judge Benitez has shown a consistent callous disregard for the facts about gun violence in this country," said Ari Freilich, state policy director for the Giffords Law Center.
How misinformation overturned California's assault weapons ban .
We cannot continue to allow misinformation and myths to seep into our courtrooms and legislatures. Judge Bentiz made a serious miscalculation that will impact the lives and safety of Californians. Facts and data matter. It's time to start paying attention to the truth about gun violence.Devin Hughes is the President and Founder of GVPedia, a non-profit that provides access to gun violence prevention research and data.