BUFFALO — In a decision and order that largely mirrors a ruling handed down two weeks ago, a U.S. District Court judge in Buffalo has issued a preliminary injunction, sought by a Niagara Falls pastor and others, that blocks the enforcement of a provision in New York’s new Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA) that bars individuals from bringing firearms into places of worship.
Just as he did with his ruling on a request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Oct. 21, District Court Judge John L. Sinatra Jr. issued the preliminary injunction less than 24 hours after hearing oral arguments on Thursday afternoon from lawyers representing the state and attorneys for the pastors, Rev. Jimmie Hardaway Jr. of Trinity Baptist Church, 1366 South Ave., and Rev. Larry Boyd, of Open Praise Full Gospel Baptist Church on Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo.
Hardaway and Boyd have been joined in their efforts to block provisions in the CCIA by two pro-gun groups, Firearms Policy Coalition, of La Vegas, Nevada and Second Amendment Foundation, of Bellevue, Washington. Sinatra previously ruled that the two groups did not have legal standing to challenge the New York gun law.
Sinatra’s temporary restraining order had already blocked the enforcement of the places of worship restriction in the CCIA, while the court weighed the overall constitutionality of the place of worship restrictions and the entire CCIA. The preliminary injunction continues the ban instituted by the TRO pending a decision by Sinatra on the merits of the pastor’s lawsuit.
The 44-page decision and order on the preliminary injunction follows almost word-for-word and page-for-page, Sinatra’s ruling in his 40-page decision and order on the temporary restraining order. In that order, Sinatra wrote that the state of New York had responded to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v Bruen, by enacting “even more restrictive legislation” then what the high court had declared unconstitutional.
“The court reiterates that ample Supreme Court precedent addressing the individual’s right to keep and bear arms — from Heller and McDonald to its June 2022 decision in Bruen — dictates that New York’s new place of worship restriction is equally unconstitutional,” Sinatra wrote in his new ruling.
Nothing in Sinatra’s ruling suggests that the judge will reach any different conclusion as the case proceeds with additional filings and oral arguments. The decision and oder on the preliminary injunction telegraphs that Sinatra will ultimately find the CCIA unconstitutional in its entirety.
During earlier hearings in the case, Sinatra appeared dismissive and openly hostile to the arguments being made by lawyers for the state.
“In Bruen, the (Supreme Court) made the Second Amendment test crystal clear: regulation in this area is permissible only if the government demonstrates that the regulation is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition,” Sinatra repeated for his earlier decision. “New York fails that test. The State’s exclusion is, instead, inconsistent with the Nation’s historical traditions.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James had sought to remove Sinatra from the case. She filed a motion asking that the judge, who is also overseeing two other constitutional challenges to the CCIA, be reassigned
In that court filing, James charged that Hardaway and the other plaintiffs in the case were seeking a tactical advantage, sometimes called “judge shopping”, by having the case directed to Sinatra, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.
Sinatra refused the request to have the case reassigned, calling the other CCIA lawsuits “related” and saying that keeping all the cases before him “would avoid unnecessary duplication of judicial effort.”
Hardaway, Boyd and the pro-gun groups brought their civil suit against Interim New York State Police Superintendent Steven Nigrelli, Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman and Erie County DA John Flynn.
After the preliminary injunction was entered by Sinatra, Flynn released a statement that read, “Effectively immediately, our office is prohibited from enforcing all of (the CCIA restrictions on firearms in places of worship) and the regulations, policies, and practices implementing it.”
There was no immediate comment from Seaman or James.
Hardaway and Boyd, who are both licensed to carry firearms in New York, and who have said they regularly carried guns in their houses of worship, prior to the passage of the CCIA, have argued that they will suffer “irreparable harm” if the places of worship restriction remains in place.
The Falls pastor maintains that his church has an “open-door policy” that carries risk over “who will walk in the door for services.” Hardaway also claims that the “horrific murders” in 2015, of nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has “stiffened his resolve to carry for self-defense and to keep the peace at Trinity Baptist stronger.”
Sinatra has maintained in his rulings that granting the TRO and, now, the preliminary injunction, returns the status quo of “the Constitution and the Bill of Rights” and that if the CCIA were found constitutional, after a trial before him, “the Court could vacate any injunctive relief” and allow enforcement of the places of worship ban.
Such an outcome appears unlikely given Sinatra’s initial determination that the CCIA is unconstitutional and his assertion that “plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Second and Fourteenth Amendment claim.”
Sinatra has refused to limit his ruling, at the request of the Attorney General’s Offcie, to just Hardaway and Boyd’s churches. He also refused a request by the state, on Friday, to stay his ruling, pending an appeal to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.’
The state had asked for a stay of three days to file its appeal.
Sinatra tartly wrote that the “plaintiff’s constitutional rights are being violated” and that “legislative enactments may not eviscerate the Bill of Rights. Every day they do is one too many.”
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