800 F.3d 720 (6th Cir. 2015), 14-5703, Walker v. United States

Docket Nº14-5703
Citation800 F.3d 720
Opinion JudgeROGERS, Circuit Judge.
Party NameBILLY YORK WALKER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant-Appellee
AttorneyWilliam Lewis Jenkins, Jr., WILKERSON GAULDIN HAYES JENKINS & DEDMON, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for Appellant. Gary A. Vanasek, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee. William Lewis Jenkins, Jr., WILKERSON GAULDIN HAYES JENKINS & DEDMON, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for Appellant....
Judge PanelBefore: SUHRHEINRICH, CLAY, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges. ROGERS, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which SUHRHEINRICH, J., joined. CLAY, J., delivered a separate dissenting opinion. CLAY, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
Case DateSeptember 01, 2015
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 720

800 F.3d 720 (6th Cir. 2015)

BILLY YORK WALKER, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant-Appellee

No. 14-5703

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 1, 2015

Argued January 13, 2015.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Jackson. No. 1:13-cv-01212--J. Daniel Breen, Chief District Judge.

ARGUED:

William Lewis Jenkins, Jr., WILKERSON GAULDIN HAYES JENKINS & DEDMON, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for Appellant.

Gary A. Vanasek, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

William Lewis Jenkins, Jr., WILKERSON GAULDIN HAYES JENKINS & DEDMON, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for Appellant.

Gary A. Vanasek, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Before: SUHRHEINRICH, CLAY, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges. ROGERS, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which SUHRHEINRICH, J., joined. CLAY, J., delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

Page 721

ROGERS, Circuit Judge.

Federal law generally bars both state-convicted and federally-convicted felons from possessing firearms, unless (among other conditions) their civil rights have been " restored." The Supreme Court has held that whether a felon's civil rights have been restored must be determined under the law of the convicting jurisdiction. Beecham v. United States, 511 U.S. 368, 114 S.Ct. 1669, 128 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994). In rejecting the argument that a state's restoration of the civil rights of a federal felon was sufficient to lift the disability under the federal statute, the Supreme Court avoided the arguably anomalous result that a convicted felon's federal firearm disability would depend on the state in which he was physically present when he possessed the firearm. A federal statute was in place that provided a means for a felon to get his firearm disability lifted. Since then, Congress has rendered inoperative the federal statutory provision directly addressing the lifting of the firearms disability based on a felony conviction. Now Billy Walker, a federal felon residing in Tennessee who has had his civil rights fully restored under Tennessee law, asserts that his Tennessee restoration of rights, because of the federal law effects of that restoration, in conjunction with certain longstanding federal statutory and constitutional provisions, leads to the conclusion that federal law has restored his rights sufficient to lift the disability. If so, the argument could have been made back when the Supreme Court decided Beecham, presumably leading to a different result in that very case. That possibility, especially in light of Congress's subsequent legislation to limit the lifting of federal firearms disability for federal felons, should give us pause before holding that a state restoration of rights after all does result in a lifting of federal firearm disability. Such a holding would raise intractable issues about which state's restoration of rights applies to a federal felon's possession of a firearm. Although a lawyer-like argument can be made to that effect, in the end a careful reading of the federal statute does not lead to such a strange result.

Walker argues that the relevant civil rights for firearm-disability-lifting purposes are the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to hold government office. When these rights are restored at the state level, the argument goes, federal law in various ways permits the exercise of the same three civil rights at the federal level, thus meeting the federal statutory standard. The argument, however, works at best only for one of the three rights, and therefore is not sufficient to constitute a federal restoration of federal civil rights (plural) to warrant lifting the firearm disability.

The relevant facts are not in dispute. In 1987, Walker was convicted on multiple

Page 722

nonviolent felony charges in federal court located in Tennessee. These convictions rendered him subject to the federal ban on possession of firearms by a convicted felon under the Gun Control Act of 1968. See 18 U.S.C. § § 921(a)(20), 922(g)(1). As a result of his status as a felon, Walker also lost certain rights under the law of Tennessee, where he resided, including the right to vote, the right to hold state office, and the right to serve on a state jury; this had consequences for his federal law rights, including the right to serve on a federal jury. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-20-112 (loss of right to vote); § 40-20-114 (loss of right to hold public office); § 22-1-102 (loss of right to serve on a state jury); 28 U.S.C. § 1865 (loss of right to serve on a federal jury).

Recently, Walker set out to restore his civil rights and regain the right to possess firearms. In June 2010, Walker obtained a Tennessee state court order ruling that he " is eligible to have all civil and citizenship rights restored, including, without limitation, the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to hold an office trust," and ordering Walker's " civil and citizenship rights . . . restored pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-29-105." The same court issued a second order on March 22, 2012, confirming the restoration of rights in the prior order, and clarifying that Walker " shall have the explicit right to bear and possess firearms."

In January 2013, Walker attempted to purchase a firearm at Gander Mountain in Jackson, Tennessee, but was prevented from doing so. When Walker appealed to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, he received an explanation that he was denied authorization because he was listed as a disqualified person in the background check database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Walker thereafter filed suit in the present action, seeking a declaratory judgment that his civil rights and his right to possess firearms have been restored in full under federal law. The district court subsequently granted the government's motion for judgment on the pleadings and denied Walker's motion for summary judgment. Walker appeals.

Walker was originally prevented from possessing firearms by 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), which prohibits " any person . . . who has been convicted . . . of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year . . . [from] possess[ing] . . . any firearm or ammunition." Walker would obviously fall under this statute, except that, under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20), " [a]ny conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this chapter," subject to conditions not at issue here. Walker argues that because his civil rights have been restored under Tennessee law, they have been restored for purposes of this statute.

Because Walker was convicted in federal court, the restoration of his rights under Tennessee law is not in itself enough. Presented with factual circumstances materially indistinguishable from the present case--federal felons whose rights had been restored in the states where they resided--the Supreme Court held that " whether a person has had civil rights restored . . . is governed by the law of the convicting jurisdiction." Beecham, 511 U.S. at 371. The Court reasoned that the statute expressly provided that what constitutes a conviction is " determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held," and that the exemption clause provides that a conviction for which civil rights have been restored " shall not be

Page 723

considered a conviction." Id. The Court noted that a different conclusion would require the Court " to come up with a special choice-of-law principle for the exemption clause." Id. (One of the two district courts below in Beecham had applied the law of the state in which the federal convicting court had sat, while the other had applied the law of the state in which felon had possessed the firearm. Id. at 370.) The Court rejected an argument that Congress would not have wanted the civil rights restoration exemption to be determined by federal law because there was no federal procedure of restoring civil rights to a federal felon. The Court rejected this argument because Congress did not intend that felons convicted in every jurisdiction have access to all the procedures (pardon, expungement, set-aside, and civil rights restoration) specified in the exemption. Id. at 372-73. Thus the Court did not need to reach the argument in favor of the felons that a federal felon cannot have his civil rights restored under federal law. Id. at 373 n.*.

In determining whether Walker's " civil rights" have been restored, precedent indicates that we should look to three civil rights in particular: " the rights to vote, to serve on a jury and to seek and hold public office." United States v. Cassidy, 899 F.2d 543, 550 (6th Cir. 1990); see Logan v. United States, 552 U.S. 23, 28, 128 S.Ct. 475, 169 L.Ed.2d 432 (2007). Along with the parties, moreover, we assume that in this context the relevant rights are to vote in federal elections, to serve on federal court juries, and to seek and hold federal office. At most one of these has been " restored" under federal law, and that is not enough.

First, we assume for purposes of this appeal that Walker's right to serve on a federal jury has been restored under federal law. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1865, the statute defining eligibility for federal jury service, a person meeting other statutory requirements can serve on a federal jury " unless he . . . has been convicted in a State or Federal court of record of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and his civil rights have not been restored." 28 U.S.C. § 1865(b)(5). Assuming that restoration of civil rights in this statutory context refers to the restoration of civil rights in one's state of residence, Walker has had his right to...

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