Lisa Folajtar pled guilty in 2011 to federal tax fraud, a felony, which is punishable by up to three years in federal prison and a fine of up to $100,000. In the end, she was sentenced to three years' probation, fined $10,000, and forced to pay the IRS $250,000 in back taxes, interest, and penalties.
She also permanently lost her right to keep and bear arms. According to federal law, it is unlawful "for any person…who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year…[to] possess…any firearm or ammunition." In other words, a federal statute has seemingly placed the Second Amendment off-limits to all federal felons.
Folajtar has been fighting that particular act of Congress in federal court since 2018. Last week, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit rejected her constitutional challenge.
"Persons who have committed serious crimes forfeit the right to possess firearms much the way they 'forfeit other civil liberties,'" such as the right the vote, stated the majority opinion of Judge Thomas L. Ambro in Folajtar v. Barr. And in this case, because Congress has designated Folajtar's crime to be a felony, "we defer to the legislature's determination." That deferential approach, Ambro argued, "safeguards the separation of powers by allowing democratically constituted legislatures, not unelected judges, to decide in most cases what types of conduct reflect so serious a breach of the social compact as to justify the loss of Second Amendment rights."
Writing in dissent, Judge Stephanos Bibas faulted his colleagues for an "extreme deference that gives legislatures unreviewable power to manipulate the Second Amendment by choosing a label." Yes, there are "historical limits on the Second Amendment," he acknowledged. And yes, "those limits protect us from felons, but only if they are dangerous." Lisa Folajtar "is not dangerous. Neither the majority nor the Government suggest otherwise. Because she poses no danger to anyone," Bibas concluded, she has no business permanently losing one of her constitutional rights.
In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit delivered a similar ruling in Kanter v. Barr. Writing in dissent, then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett—who is Justice Amy Coney Barrett now—insisted that the majority was dead wrong.
"History is consistent with common sense: it demonstrates that legislatures have the power to prohibit dangerous people from possessing guns," Barrett wrote. "But that power extends only to people who are dangerous. Founding-era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons. Nor have the parties introduced any evidence that founding-era legislatures imposed virtue-based restrictions on the right; such restrictions applied to civic rights like voting and jury service, not to individual rights like the right to possess a gun. In 1791—and for well more than a century afterward—legislatures disqualified categories of people from the right to bear arms only when they judged that doing so was necessary to protect the public safety."
I would not be surprised if Folajtar's case makes it to the Supreme Court. And if it does, the Court's newest member is sure to look askance at the federal statute that permanently stripped Folajtar of one of her constitutional rights.