The Second Amendment Foundation and Defense Distributed today are celebrating a court victory in a long-running battle to allow online publication of information related to the 3D printing of firearms, thanks to a ruling by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that returns claims against the New Jersey attorney general (NJAG) to its jurisdiction.
A district court order had wrongly severed the case against the NJAG, from a lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs, and transferred it to a federal court in New Jersey. Today’s ruling in the Fifth Circuit directs the district court in Texas to “request retransfer from its counterpart in New Jersey.”
“It’s a huge victory for us,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb, “because New Jersey wanted to be severed from our legal action in their effort to prevent publication of the information by Defense Distributed, thus violating the company’s and SAF’s First Amendment rights to promote the exercise of Second Amendment rights.”
This effort began when anti-gun-rights attorneys general, led by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, filed suit in the Western District of Washington to enjoin the State Department from authorizing the release of Defense Distributed’s files on the internet under a settlement from a previous SAF and Defense Distributed lawsuit. That effort was an offshoot of attempts by then-New Jersey AG Gurbir Grewal and several of his peers to prevent the plaintiffs’ distribution of materials related to the 3D printing of firearms.
Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones stated, “Correctly assessed, the NJAG did not carry its burden to clearly demonstrate that transfer is clearly more appropriate than the Plaintiffs’ choice of forum. The district court erred legally and factually in virtually every aspect of this issue, and its decision, which has unnecessarily lengthened this litigation, even more, represents a clear abuse of discretion for which mandamus is an appropriate remedy.”
An earlier ruling by a Fifth Circuit panel held that the NJAG is “subject to the jurisdiction of Texas courts” in this case because Defense Distributed is a Texas-based company. Today, the Fifth Circuit ruling directs the district court to:
- Vacate its order dated April 19, 2021, that severed Defense Distributed’s claims against the NJAG and transferred them to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey;
- Request the District of New Jersey to return the transferred case to the Western District of Texas, Austin Division; and,
- After return, to reconsolidate Defense Distributed’s case against the NJAG back into the case still pending against the State Department.
“This case has dragged on for years,” Gottlieb noted. “What today’s ruling clearly demonstrates is that attorneys general who violates our First and Second Amendment rights will be held to answer by the courts, wherever the violations occur.
“NJAG wanted their case severed and transferred,” he added, “and now that will not happen. It’s unfortunate that justice has been delayed so long. It’s time to move forward. This is a case we fully expect to totally win.”
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