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Hon. Roger Benitez

JPML Panel; USDC Southern District of California

Roger Thomas Benitez (born December 30, 1950)  is a senior United States district judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Best known for striking down several California gun control laws.

Education and Career

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1950 and later moved to San Diego. Received an Associate of Arts degree from Imperial Valley College in 1971, a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Diego State University in 1974, and a Juris Doctor from the Western State University College of Law‘s San Diego campus (now the Thomas Jefferson School of Law) in 1978. Benitez worked in private practice in Imperial County, California, from 1978 to 1997. He was a judge on the California Superior Court from 1997 to 2001, and an instructor for Imperial Valley College from 1998 to 1999.

Federal Judicial Service

In 2001, Benitez was appointed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California to serve as a United States magistrate judge. On May 1, 2003, he was nominated by President George W. Bush to a new seat on the Southern District of California created by 116 Stat. 1758. Benitez was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 17, 2004, by a 98–1 vote. Benitez received his commission on June 21, 2004. Benitez assumed senior status on December 31, 2017. He became a member of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in 2020.

Notable Cases

  • In 2019, Benitez granted summary judgment in a lawsuit (initially Duncan v. Becerra, later Duncan v. Bonta) in which plaintiffs challenged California’s ban on high-capacity magazines. In November 2021, the Ninth Circuit reversed Benitez’s decision. On June 30, 2022 the US Supreme Court vacated the 9th circuit court of appeals decision and remanded it for reconsideration in light of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen ruling.
  • In Rhode v. Becerra, Benitez issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of California’s 2016 Proposition 63 law requiring background checks for ammunition sales, ruling in favor of the California Rifle & Pistol Association; he deemed the law “constitutionally defective.” The Ninth Circuit stayed Benitez’s ruling pending appeal.
  • Benitez presided over the lawsuit Miller v. Bonta in 2021; the case challenged California’s assault weapons ban. Following a trial, Benitez overturned the 32-year-old state law, ruling that “the state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states”