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'Jane Doe' Issue Looks Alive for Appeals Court

July 16, 2018 - 3:15pm
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

A federal appeals court Monday cleared the way for considering a dispute about whether two teens can remain anonymous in a challenge to a new Florida law that raised the minimum age to buy rifles and other long guns.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a two-page document that said it “appears that this court has jurisdiction to consider this appeal,” though it said a final determination on that jurisdiction will be made later by a panel of judges who will hear the anonymity issue.

The appeal stems from a ruling in May by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that a 19-year-old Alachua County woman, identified as “Jane Doe,” could not remain anonymous as a plaintiff in a National Rifle Association challenge to the gun law. The NRA also sought to add to the case a 19-year-old man, identified as “John Doe,” who could be affected by the law.

After Walker’s ruling, the NRA went to the Atlanta-based appeals court seeking to allow the teens to remain anonymous. The appeals court, however, raised a question about whether it should consider the anonymity matter and said that if “it is determined that this court is without jurisdiction, this appeal will be dismissed.”

The NRA contended the appeals court has jurisdiction over the anonymity issue. Also, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, which has objected to the teens remaining anonymous, agreed that the appeals court could take up the dispute.

The anonymity issue is rooted in a federal lawsuit that the NRA filed March 9 after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school-safety measure that included new gun-related restrictions. The legislation was a response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and faculty members dead. In part, the law raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns. 

After filing the lawsuit, the NRA moved to add the two teens to the case but sought to keep their identities private. NRA attorneys argued in a brief filed June 27 in the appeals court that the teens feared “that being publicly named in and associated with the case would subject them to harassment, intimidation, threats, and potentially even physical violence.” It also pointed to numerous harassing and threatening emails and phone calls received by prominent NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer since the shooting in Parkland and the filing of the lawsuit.

“The context of this case --- and of Jane Doe and John Doe’s request to remain anonymous --- cannot be understood apart from the tragic February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and its aftermath,” the NRA’s lawyers wrote in the brief. “That event not only led to the enactment of the ban (on people under 21 buying guns) challenged in this case; it was the catalyst for a nationwide effort to restrict the possession and use of firearms. Funded by a group of anti-gun organizations, activists have barnstormed the country advocating restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms.”

In ruling against the anonymity request in May, Walker wrote that if “it were entirely up to this court, this court would not hesitate to grant the NRA’s motion.” But Walker indicated he was bound by previous legal decisions.

Based on precedent, “this court finds that mere evidence of threats and harassment made online is insufficient to outweigh the customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings,” Walker wrote. “This is especially true where the targets of such threats and harassment are not minors and where the subject at issue does not involve matters of utmost intimacy.”

While the NRA and state await action from the appeals court on the anonymity issue, the underlying challenge to the law signed by Scott has largely remained on hold. After the anonymity issue is resolved, Walker will consider the legality of the gun restriction.

Meanwhile, Hammer filed lawsuits Friday in state and federal courts against five men she says have targeted her with harmful emails and phone calls since the massacre in Parkland.


If you're going to challenge an existing law in court ... but you want to be anonymous about it ... then you're either a coward or a sneak and you don't merit any court's time! If you can't stand-up for what you ostensibly believe in ... then fuggeddaboudit!

Oh, no, there are definitely legitimate reasons for anonymity. It could be that you'd like not to have bullies, zealots, and mentally disturbed persons showing up to harass, hurt, or even kill you for wanting to have the gun the state of Florida's age-limit law won't let you have, regardless of what the Constitution states, in order to protect yourself from those who have started advocating shooting those for gun rights. (Makes perfect sense, right?) It could also mean that you consider killing a very last resort and are trying to save such people's lives, as there's every likelihood that mom and/or dad are going to show up to protect their teens in a fight, likely have guns to do that, and can legally use them against those coming for their kids, as Stand Your Ground will let them do so. It could also mean that you quite clearly and accurately see that you will be subjected to harassment 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 days out of the year (the time clock the perpetrators of harassment will apply to their actions) for wanting to own an item for the few days out of the year you hunt/sport shoot and the hope-to-God-it-never-comes moment you have to make a choice in a kill or be killed situation. That brings us neatly full circle, back to the issue of anonymity being breached leading to exponential increase in the likelihood of a violent and perhaps fatal confrontation, be it with the militant left, those whose passions have been inflamed by personal loss, or (more likely) the mentally disturbed who can't reason all the way through the logic of what they're doing.

" Determination to be made later by a 'panel of Judges,.."... TRANSLATION: Yes, the 11th Circuit Appeals Court will "take the case"...(psst..that's how important we feel your case is)...*BUT*... "a panel of old reprobate, "hangers-on", retired judges, on per-diem pay, will show-up-on-Tuesdays and over coffee & donuts, "examine" the merits of the case and make the final determination for "the BIG 11th Guys", matter how long it takes... (Talk about "stalling" and "passing the buck"..!) [This is just one example of where "legal issues" go to languish & die in "Valhalla" Folks..almost always because of "political influence" of one sort, or another]...

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