Does Ban on Carrying Weapons “Inside Any Building in Which Judicial Proceedings Are in Progress” …

Nope, says the Tennessee Attorney General in a Mar. 14 opinion (No. 22-04) that was just posted on Westlaw:

The prohibition in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306 against carrying weapons in buildings in which judicial proceedings are in progress may be reasonably construed to apply only to those buildings in which a judge customarily conducts judicial proceedings, such as courthouses and criminal justice facilities. It does not appear that the General Assembly intended Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306 to apply to buildings from which a judge conducts a judicial proceeding remotely by conference call or videoconference, such as the judge’s private residence or another similar building {[or] to other buildings such as private residences, business offices or other similar buildings from which non-judicial participants—eg, attorneys or witnesses—might participate in judicial meetings by conference call or videoconference.} …

First, “[t]he obvious intent of [Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306] is to ensure the safety of judges, lawyers, court personnel, litigants, witnesses, and observers present in the courtroom and to assure the decorum and deportment during proper judicial proceedings.” In other words, the intent is to protect people in courthouses—ie , in buildings where their participation in judicial proceedings requires them to come into contact with others who may pose a risk if they are armed. But a lawyer or judge or witness participating in a judicial proceeding remotely from his or her own home or office does not face the risks associated with physical presence in courthouses, so there is no reason to extend the meaning of “building” to include buildings from which people are participating remotely….

Second, the exemptions [to the statute] evince a law intent to include only such buildings as courthouses and criminal justice facilities in which judicial proceedings are traditionally and customarily conducted, because those exemptions apply to officials and other persons who would only be in courthouses—namely, law enforcement officers, bailiffs, marshals , and other court officers who have “responsibility for protecting persons or property or providing security.”

Third, when Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306 was enacted in 1989, the commercial internet had not been developed, and remote participation in judicial proceedings was by no means commonplace. Thus, it is unlikely that the legislature intended “buildings” to include buildings from which people participate remotely in judicial proceedings. Had that been the intent, the General Assembly could have and would have implemented that intent by amending the statute as technology developed to allow remote participation. To the contrary, while the statute has been amended several times since 1989, none of the amendments evidence an intent to include buildings from which persons are remotely participating in judicial proceedings by conference call or video conference.

Fourth, the constitutional-doubt canon would make a court disinclined to interpret the prohibition in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306 broadly to encompass private residences, since possession there is protected by the Second Amendment. Constructing Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306 as applying only to those buildings in which a judge customarily conducts judicial proceedings, such as courthouses and criminal justice facilities, avoids constitutional conflict and safeguards Second Amendment rights. See DC v. Heller (2008) (“[N]Something in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms … in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings….”).

In sum, the prohibition in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306 against carrying weapons in buildings in which judicial proceedings are in progress may be reasonably construed to apply only to those buildings in which a judge customarily conducts judicial proceedings, such as courthouses and criminal justice facilities. It does not appear that the General Assembly intended Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1306 to apply to buildings from which a judge conducts a judicial proceeding remotely by conference call or videoconference, such as the judge’s private residence or another similar building.

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