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Editorial: Whether abortion or gun rights, bad law is still bad law

California Governor Assault Weapons

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Dec. 11 pledged to empower private citizens to enforce a ban on the manufacture and sale assault weapons in the state, citing the same authority claimed by conservative lawmakers in Texas to outlaw most abortions once a heartbeat is detected.

Regardless of what you think about abortion rights, Texas’ poorly crafted abortion law is about to unleash a slew of unintended constitutional consequences across the country.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he favors California using the Texas law as a model to ban semiautomatic weapons and “ghost gun kits” by letting citizens sue anyone who makes, sells or distributes them in his state.

This is one of the reasons we’ve said Senate Bill 8, also known as the fetal heartbeat law, is both unconstitutional and dangerous.

SB 8′s legal mechanism grants enforcement to anyone willing to sue doctors and others who “aid or abet” women in obtaining an abortion after six weeks. Texas law, which Florida and Ohio have cited in their attempts to tighten abortion restrictions, also allows private citizens who sue to collect $10,000 if they win their lawsuit, a provision critics have denounced as a bounty hunting and vigilantism.

Bad law makes for bad precedents. SB 8 has opened the door for states to infringe on gun rights, voting rights, religious and other constitutional rights.

Some may make a distinction between gun rights as mentioned in the Constitution and interpreted by courts to apply to individual ownership and abortion choice that court rulings have interpreted as an extension of a constitutional right. But a law that by design doesn’t permit recourse by those impacted is a step in the wrong direction and edges closer to allowing creative schemes to nullify a wide variety of federal authority and individual rights.

Or as Justice Sonia Sotomayor wisely asked: “What are federal courts to do if, for example, a State effectively prohibits worship by a disfavored religious minority through crushing ‘private’ litigation burdens amplified by skewed court procedures, but does a better job than Texas of disclaiming all enforcement by state officials? Perhaps nothing at all, says this Court.”

The ramification of vigilante lawsuits that could stem from this bad law should be of concern to anyone who cares about balance and protection of individual rights. California has cast its spin on how to privatize enforcement, and other states are looking for a way they can use the enforcement portion of the Texas law to skirt accountability, review and the rule of law. Privatized enforcement dangerously undermines these key elements that hold together our judicial system and nation around certain basic tenets, and should not be encouraged.

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