Several of the 11 judges on the federal appeals court in Atlanta were skeptical — and at times perplexed — about the purpose of a Florida law that prohibits physicians from asking patients about guns in their households.The occasion for the unusual “en banc” hearing — in which all the judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hear a case rather than the usual three-judge panel — was a law that has infuriated doctors and pleased gun-rights advocates. The measure, nicknamed “Docs v. Glocks,” was not well-received by the crowd of jurists at Tuesday’s hearing.Alrighty then...
The hourlong proceeding included a striking exchange among the judges and Rachel Nordby, the deputy solicitor general of Florida, who was representing the state. The court questioned why the law seems to contradict itself, at one point evoking a strict prohibition and at another seeming to say the law is more of a suggestion.
Nordby said the law allows doctors to ask questions about guns if they believe that information is “relevant. They are the gate keepers.”
Are you telling us we should assume the law is totally ineffective?” Judge Charles Wilson asked Nordby.
“All of these provisions are illusionary? They have no legal effect?” Judge William Pryor asked.
“How is this enforceable?” Judge Robin Rosenbaum asked. “There’s no objective standard by which a physician can know.”
Nordby paused for several seconds before answering and then said, “The legislative intent was to express its views on an important public policy,” she said. “These provisions were not meant to be enforced.”
That briefly stirred the spectators, who grumbled audibly at Nordby’s reply.
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Circuit Chief Judge Ed Carnes asked Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a lawyer for the doctors, whether the state has the right to prohibit a doctor from discriminating against a patient based on gun ownership. Hallward-Driemeier replied that there would be no problem if that was all the law said.
The main problem is that the effectively stops many doctors from asking relevant questions about guns because they fear a patient will take offense and file a complaint with the Florida Board of Medicine, Hallward-Driemeier said.
The law also violates doctors' First Amendment right to free speech by targeting speech on a specific topic, Hallward-Driemeier argued.
Florida is the only state that has enacted such a law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.