Law would compel citizens suing to vindicate their rights to pay the government’s legal fees if they lose
A federal judge says he will block a “tyrannical” provision in an incoming California gun law because it would have the “chilling effect” of discouraging people from challenging the statute in court.
Judge Roger Benitez said in a San Diego courtroom on Dec. 16 that he would soon issue an injunction halting part of a state law scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2023, according to The Associated Press. The offending provision would require those who fight the state’s gun laws to pay the government’s legal fees should they lose in court. It was heavily promoted by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat with presidential ambitions.
The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, is Miller v. Bonta, court file 22-cv-1446. The lawsuit is one of many now pending in courts across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that individuals have a constitutional right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
The so-called loser-pays requirement would produce a “chilling effect” that would hinder state residents from suing to vindicate their legal rights because they would fear having to pay potentially huge lawyer fees, Benitez said, agreeing with Second Amendment advocates.
“I can’t think of anything more tyrannical,” said Benitez, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
Benitez previously ruled against California laws targeting gun ownership. His defense of the Second Amendment has earned him the nickname “St. Benitez” among gun rights activists.
In June 2021, the judge found that California’s Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, which prohibited so-called assault weapons such as the popular AR-15 rifle in the state, ran afoul of the Second Amendment. Weeks later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit put his ruling on hold. And in March 2019, Benitez found that the state’s ban on large-capacity magazines included in Proposition 63 was unconstitutional.