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United States v. Class

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

July 19, 2019

United States of America, Appellee
v.
Rodney Class, Appellant

          Argued March 13, 2019

         On Remand from the Supreme Court of the United States

          Leonard R. Powell argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was Jessica Ring Amunson.

          Lauren R. Bates, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the briefs were Jesse K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Chrisellen R. Kolb, Jeffrey Pearlman, and Valinda Jones, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

          Before: Griffith and Srinivasan, Circuit Judges, and Sentelle, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          Griffith, Circuit Judge.

         Federal law prohibits the possession of firearms on the grounds of the United States Capitol. 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e). Rodney Class pleaded guilty to violating this law after parking a car containing three guns on a street near the Capitol. He now argues that, as applied to his case, the law violates the Second Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. These claims lack merit, and we affirm his conviction.

         I

         In May 2013, Rodney Class drove to the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. He parked his car in one of the many angled parking spots that line the 200 block of Maryland Avenue SW (the "Maryland Avenue lot"). That parking spot sits just north of the United States Botanic Gardens and approximately 1, 000 feet from the entrance to the Capitol itself. The street is accessible to the general public, but the parking spot Class used is reserved on weekdays (like the Thursday he parked there) for employees of the House of Representatives. The parking lot is marked by a sign indicating a permit is required. Class locked his car and walked inside the Capitol. Upon his return, several police officers were peering into his car. One asked Class if he had any weapons inside, and he answered that he did. The officer told Class that it was illegal to have weapons on Capitol Grounds and took Class to Capitol Police headquarters. When the car was searched, three firearms were found.

         Class was indicted for possession of a firearm while on the grounds of the Capitol, in violation of 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(1) (the "Capitol Grounds ban"). He filed several motions seeking to dismiss the indictment, arguing, inter alia, that the Capitol Grounds ban violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms. The district court denied these motions from the bench, holding that the Capitol Grounds ban "does not burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment," because "laws prohibiting individuals from carrying firearms in sensitive places, such as government buildings, are presumptively lawful." Tr. of Mot. Hr'g at 18, United States v. Class, No. 1:13-cr-0253-1 (D.D.C. Oct. 27, 2014), Dkt. No. 193. Class subsequently entered an unconditional guilty plea.

         Class appealed his conviction on both constitutional and statutory grounds. United States v. Class, No. 15-3015, 2016 WL 10950032, at *1 (D.C. Cir. July 5, 2016). We affirmed his conviction, holding that his unconditional guilty plea waived his right to appeal on those grounds. Id. at *2. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Class did not waive his constitutional claims because they challenged the government's very power to make his conduct criminal. Class v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 798, 805 (2018).

         On remand, we now consider the merits of those claims: first, that the ban as applied to Class's conduct violates his Second Amendment right to bear arms, and second, that the ban violates the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause because the law defining the Capitol Grounds is complicated enough that Class lacked notice that he was on them. Because these claims present questions of law, we review them de novo. United States v. Yakou, 428 F.3d 241, 246 (D.C. Cir. 2005).[1]The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3231. We have appellate jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         II

         To evaluate the constitutionality of firearms regulations, we first determine "whether a particular provision impinges upon a right protected by the Second Amendment." Heller v. District of Columbia (Heller II), 670 F.3d 1244, 1252 (D.C. Cir. 2011). If it does, we ask "whether the provision passes muster under the appropriate level of constitutional scrutiny." Id. Because we conclude that the Capitol Grounds ban does not "impinge[] upon a right protected by the Second Amendment," we do not reach the second question.

         The Second Amendment protects the right to own and carry a firearm outside the home. Wrenn v. District of Columbia, 864 F.3d 650, 657-58 (D.C. Cir. 2017); see District of Columbia v. Heller (Heller I), 554 U.S. 570, 635 (2008). But the right is not unlimited. The Supreme Court has been careful to note that "longstanding prohibitions" like "laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings" remain "presumptively lawful." Heller I, 554 U.S. at 626, 627 n.26. A challenger may rebut this presumption only by ...


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