THE suggestion in my previous column (“Rule of law and constitutional government are in peril,” Times, February 13, 2016) that “Jane Doe” should be used as a placeholder name in official records and media reports on the Grace Poe disqualification cases struck a chord with many readers. They liked the sound of “Jane Doe, a.k.a. Grace Poe.”
After undertaking some legal research, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that I have the weight of US jurisprudence in my corner. And there‘s a chance that churches could join my call for the name change.
The most famous case in US court rulings in the abortion controversy, Roe vs Wade, actually uses a placeholder name “Jane Roe” for the female litigant in the case. Jane Roe is a variant of Jane Doe in the US. Wade was a Dallas district attorney.
A landmark abortion decision
Roe vs Wade, which should be known to Filipino justices worthy of the name, is the landmark decision in 1973 by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that this right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting women’s health and protecting the potentiality of human life. Arguing that these state interests became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.
Later, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), the Court rejected Roe’s trimester framework while affirming its central holding that a woman has a right to abortion until fetal viability. The Roe decision defined “viable” as “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Justices in Casey acknowledged that viability may occur at 23 or 24 weeks, or sometimes even earlier, in light of medical advances.
In disallowing many state and federal restrictions on abortion in the United States, Roe v. Wade prompted a national debate that continues to this day about issues including whether, and to what extent, abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion, what methods the Supreme Court should use in constitutional adjudication, and what the role should be of religious and moral views in the political sphere.
Roe vs Wade reshaped US national politics, dividing much of the US into pro-choice and pro-life camps, and activating grassroots movements on both sides.
The Jane Roe in this case was actually Norma Leah McCorvey, who revealed herself soon after the Supreme Court decision. But the name Roe vs Wade has stuck to the court case and decision. And so it will remain.
From the courts to the morgue
The tradition of using John or Jane Doe dates back centuries in England, America and other English- speaking countries.
From the courts to the morgue, if the government doesn’t know someone’s name or wants to withhold it, they give them one of these as a placeholder. Why?
The John and Jane Doe custom was born out of a strange and long-since vanished British legal process called an action of ejectment. Under old English common law, the actions landowners could take against squatters or defaulting tenants frequently resorted to giving fictitious names to the parties in their legal actions.
Whatever their ultimate origin, the names John and Jane Doe became standard placeholders for unidentified, anonymous or hypothetical parties to a court case. Most US jurisdictions continue to use John Doe and his female counterpart, Jane, as placeholder names, and will bring in Roe if two anonymous or unknown parties are involved in the same case. Sometimes, the federal courts skip Doe and go right to Roe for anonymous plaintiffs. The US federal courts adopted the practice, and used it most famously in Roe vs Wade.
A shameful footnote in history
It is not lost on me that all this disquisition on the Poe disqualification cases, only serve to expand the legend and appeal of Ms Poe to the masses, raising her to the status of his adoptive father, Fernando Poe, Jr.
Some say that the more we remove the fig leaf from her con game, the more she will haunt our politics.
I do not buy this superstition. I believe the researchers and scholars at the Ateneo Institute of Philippine Culture, who have discovered through their research that the poor vote in this country is, contrary to popular belief, “a thinking vote.” They are not that easily swayed or manipulated by lies. They do not like being taken for fools.
I am hunting for a copy of this research study. When I get my copy and have reviewed it, I will write a full report.
I believe “Grace Poe” will eventually become just like a screen name or nom de guerre.
It will fade into the dustbin of history and recesses of memory, unless Ms. Poe does something extraordinary like Voltaire, Mark Twain. and Marilyn Monroe—all of which are assumed names.
But perhaps the horrible torture she has put us through in this election cycle is already enough to earn her a shameful footnote in our history.