Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Judicial Winning: Paul Matey

(Alexei Novikov/Dreamstime)

Paul Matey has worn several hats over the course of a distinguished legal career. After clerking for two federal judges, he worked at Kellogg Hansen, an elite law firm whose impressive alumni include Justice Gorsuch and Judges Andy Oldham and Julius Richardson. Matey then served as an assistant United States attorney in New Jersey before working as senior counsel to Governor Chris Christie. He has also served as senior vice president and general counsel of University Hospital in Newark. Last year, Matey donned yet another hat when President Trump nominated him to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Since becoming a judge, Matey has shown a steadfast commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its text, history, and original meaning. In Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs v. Attorney General New Jersey, just decided on September 1, a three-judge panel concluded that a New Jersey law banning magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition did not violate the Second Amendment. The majority declined to do any constitutional analysis of the ban, and instead claimed that the question had already been resolved in a prior Third Circuit case.

Judge Matey dissented. He began by noting that the prior decision left important questions unanswered and that when undecided constitutional issues are squarely presented to a federal court, the court has an obligation to answer them. Judge Matey then conducted a thoughtful and thorough analysis of the Second Amendment.

He asserted that the Second Amendment has always been understood to protect the right to bear firearms for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Inherent in that right, of course, is the right to bear operable arms. That is, the Second Amendment protects those components “required to make a protected firearm work for self-defense.” As Judge Matey explained, a magazine is “a device that holds cartridges or ammunition,” and ammunition is clearly required to make a firearm work. Magazines therefore fall within the protection of the Second Amendment.

Judge Matey then considered the history of gun use in America. He concluded that magazines holding more than ten rounds are and have been quite common for well over a hundred years.  Based on the historical absence of regulations limiting such magazines and the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, Judge Matey concluded that New Jersey’s law unconstitutionally burdened the rights of gun owners. Indeed, New Jersey offered no concrete evidence that the magazine ban would improve public safety and save potential victims. The Second Amendment, Judge Matey wrote, “demands more than back-of-the-envelope math.”

Judge Matey’s commitment to defending the freedoms guaranteed by the Second Amendment is a welcome reminder of how the judiciary can, when it faithfully interprets the Constitution, protect individuals from excessive governmental regulation. And it is a timely example of what is at stake in this November’s presidential election: two drastically different visions of the proper role of judges in our society.

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