Category: General Law


Judge Richard J. Cardamone

I wanted to note the passing of Judge Cardamone, who was on the Second Circuit when I was a law clerk.  This NYT obituary gives an account of his life and career, and includes this quote from him about judging:

“How one wishes to decide a case comes lightly to mind, on a wing. But often, how one must decide it comes arduously, weighed down by somber thought.”

I fondly recall having lunch with him, my judge, and my co-clerks, and we praised a recent dissent that he’d written.  Judge Cardamone replied ruefully that “a dissent just means that you failed to persuade your colleagues,” which is a wonderful way of describing collegiality.

Finally, I’ll note that he had ten children!  That’s an achievement onto itself.


Women’s Autonomy and the Parent-Parent Status

Women’s Autonomy and the Parent-Parent Status

Merle Weiner has written an extremely thoughtful and compelling book on just why we need to create a new legal status to recognize the relationship between two people who have a child together. Family law focuses on the adult-partner relationship, though marriage or contract, or the parent-child relationship, which may impose obligations related to custody or support on the other parent. No law, however, assigns obligations from one parent to another on the basis of the child they have in common. (pp. 54-56). Weiner attempts to remedy the matter by providing a legal status that would create binding relations between parents while their child was a minor.
Weiner’s proposal is a creative response to current efforts to resurrect the two-parent family without necessarily bringing back marriage as a compulsory response to pregnancy. As fewer couples choose to marry, many have fought for legal recognition of a continuum of relationships on terms of the couples’ choosing. And as women have achieved greater ability to raise children on their own, fathers have sought to make their custodial rights independent of their relationship to mother. See, e.g., Clare Huntington, The challenge underlying all these efforts, however, have been the tensions between autonomy and equality. Even couples who consciously negotiated the terms of their union often intensely disagree on the terms of their parting. And as marriage has increasingly come to require an equal assumption of parenting obligations, parents who do not marry now fall on a continuum from those who have relationships equivalent to marriage to those who vehemently object that they want no such thing. In this context, most proposals to encourage stronger two parent relationships sacrifice unmarried women’s greater autonomy in an effort to encourage greater paternal involvement. Weiner’s proposals differ from others in her effort to simultaneously insist that parents acknowledge their obligations to each other and to rewrite the gender balance in these relationships.
The project of setting out obligations between parents to ensure that they act fairly with one another with respect to their joint child is admirable, and we applaud Professor Weiner for this effort to chart a new status. Weiner and others such as Solangel Maldonado,, seeking to involve both parents in caring for their children can help us change the focus from what’s wrong with the family to how can we move forward. We think her project is appealing – but not for all parents of all classes in every situation. Accordingly, we explore three questions. First is for whom will – or might — this new status work well? Second, how much harm might the status do to everyone else? The third is whether her proposal can be implemented so it provides support to those who need it, without coercing others into an unwanted new legal scheme?
As we have suggested elsewhere, families in the United States have developed three diverging patterns (and Weiner discusses our work on this). The elite, who – roughly — constitute the one-third of the country who graduate from college and/or enjoy substantial incomes, has become, if anything, more likely to raise their children in committed two-parent families. The marginalized bottom third has largely given up on marriage, raising children in the context of single-parent families and contingent, rather than committed, relationships with a second adult. The middle is in flux, as it remains more likely to marry than the bottom, more likely to divorce than the top, and in the midst of an unresolved struggle to redefine the new terms for multiple parents, stepparents, and intimate partners.
As Weiner recognizes, elite communities continue to connect readiness for parenthood with the right choice of a partner. For the wealthiest and best educated, the unintended pregnancy rate has steadily fallen. And while this group has relatively few abortions because of its embrace of contraception, it ends a higher percentage of its unplanned pregnancies with abortion than any other group. This sets the stage for later parenthood in the context of more stable relationships. The only group whose marriage rates have not declined are the top ten percent of women by income, and for college graduates as a whole, divorce rates have declined back to the levels of the mid-sixties – before adoption of no-fault divorce and before the widespread availability of abortion and the pill. For those who marry, parenthood involves an equal assumption of responsibility for children, and the law increasingly seeks to insure the two parents’ equal involvement with the children if they divorce. Those college graduates who do have children outside of marriage often do so either with an agreement about the terms of their relationship with another parental partner, or with use of a donor whose parental rights have been severed. Implementation of Weiner’s proposals is easiest to imagine for this group.
While equal assumption of parental responsibilities has become the norm associated with marriage, those who do not marry often do not do so precisely because their relationships do not involve either mutual respect or the capacity for an equal assumption of parenting responsibilities. It will be for these communities that her proposals offer the greatest challenges. In the communities moving most decisively away from marriage, a majority of parental-partnerships end because of domestic violence and forty percent involve flagrant infidelity. EDIN AND KEFALAS, PROMISES I CAN KEEP: WHY POOR WOMEN PUT MOTHERHOOD BEFORE MARRIAGE 81 (2015). For these couples, unmarried fathers’ relationships with their children occur in the context of the contingent relationships they negotiate with the mothers. Studies indicate that the fathers overwhelming want a continuing relationship with the child, and the fathers believe that their ability to continue to see the child depends on how they manages the relationship with the mother. The mothers’ support in turn depends on the fathers’ contributions and her entry into new relationships. Race makes a difference in these patterns. Black mothers, who have a much longer tradition of co-parenting outside of marriage, report higher rates of effective co-parenting and more involvement from unmarried fathers than other races,, though the norms in white working class communities are changing in ways that make paternal involvement less dependent on the continuation of the adult partnership. For all groups, as Weiner notes, fathers in fragile families initially offer formal and informal support to their children, but that amount declines as the parents’ cohabiting relationship recedes (p. 204).
It therefore makes no sense to impose the same system of obligations, regardless of marriage and adult-adult commitment and income, on all parenting arrangements. The elite already recognize the importance of the right partnership for raising children, whether or not they marry; those outside the elite often do not marry precisely because they do not believe that such a partnership is possible. The relationships that produce the pregnancy typically end because of behavior that makes the prospects for a continuing relationship based on cooperation and mutual respect unlikely.
To be sure, Weiner addresses the potential objections to her proposal. Indeed, she balances her call for greater recognition of parenting partnerships with calls for greater protection of those who might be disadvantaged by them. She accordingly calls both for placing greater emphasis on the existence of the relationship and calls for more resources to encourage good behavior within it. The result is an ambitious undertaking, one that hopes to recreate the norms that make healthier relationships ships possible.
Weiner’s most original proposals are those which seek to achieve greater respect between parents. She recognizes that parents who parent apart rarely assume equal responsibility for a child, and she therefore recommends that “[t]he primary breadwinner” may share income with a caregiver, which could rebalance parental contributions. (P. 437). She acknowledges the importance of domestic violence, both because of its role in undermining parental relationships and because of the harm it inflicts on children (p. 508). She accordingly recommends that parents who commit violence against another parent should be treated with harsher punishments than those who commit physical violence against other adults (p. 329), and that the definition of partnership abuse be expanded to include psychological as well as physical manipulation and harassment. Nor does she advocate joint custody; instead, she believes that her proposal for the new parent-partner status, caregiver compensation, and a change in norms to encourage positive co-parenting would mean that custody law would become less important (p. 506-07). And she advocates relationship classes that would underscore appropriate norms for parental relationships and help parents to achieve them. Her final chapter (before the Conclusion) which is titled “Possible Concerns about the Parent-Partner Status, briefly addresses whether the status would encroach on individual autonomy or disadvantage women and children. While she concedes that women might, in fact, lose some of their authority, this loss would instead show the success of this new status in creating new and positive co-parenting norms, complete with behavioral change.(p. 510).
Weiner’s central objective is to remake the norms that underlie parenting. She objects that too many couples have children without the ability to manage their own relationships and, if the effect of her proposals would be to compel greater use of contraceptives, she seems to welcome the result. What she does not fully address, however, is the heavy handed nature of the legal system. Mothers have won a measure of autonomy by their ability to stay out of court; Weiner would make it easier for parents to find their way back in. She is most eager to empower those who would embrace parenting education and those who seek protection from abuse; yet, she acknowledges that the courts have been willing to reward abusers who seek custodial rights rather than to protect victims. The subtext of her proposals, whatever their intentions, is to make the working class more like the elite in their ability to manage relationships. More enforceable relationship rights, however, may have the perverse effect of empowering those who would like to hang on to the shreds of a relationship that the other parent has ended for good reason.
Weiner’s proposals, in their focus on the legal system, do not and cannot address the greater economic inequality that has remade the family. To rebuild healthy relationships premised on a middle class model, it is necessary to rebuild the pathways into the middle class. Decreasing male economic inequality is critical and will do much to reinvolve both parents in their children’s lives.


The Limits of Relationship Work

Merle Weiner’s book, A Parent-Partner Status for American Family Law, is a tremendously important contribution to the debate about how to strengthen families and improve outcomes for children. At a time when families are rapidly changing and marriage is of dwindling importance in some communities, it is imperative to think anew about how to support a wide range of families. Weiner’s proposal for a new parent-partner status is a bold and welcome addition to this debate.

Weiner proposes five core legal obligations that would attach to the parent-partner status. Three of these obligations are incremental changes to existing law—a duty to aid regardless of marital status, a heightened duty of loyalty in contracting, and additional protections against domestic violence for parent-partners. These obligations strike me as reasonable and would seem to further Weiner’s goal of inculcating stronger ties between parents. A fourth obligation—financial compensation for a parent who does a disproportionate share of the physical caregiving—usefully builds on existing law as well as the proposals in the ALI Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution, which Weiner convincingly critiques. Together, these obligations would formalize a status that exists currently in the interstices of family law, which is itself a positive step forward.

It is Weiner’s final obligation that, at least at first glance, appears to be a major departure from existing law. She proposes that parent-partners have a legally enforceable obligation to engage in “relationship work”—counseling, education, and so on—both at the time a child is born and if the parents’ romantic relationship ends. The relationship work at the first juncture is intended to help parents navigate the stressful transition to parenthood. The relationship work at the time of dissolution contemplates reconciliation as a first measure. If, after considering the impact of the dissolution on the child, the couple still proceeds to break up, then the relationship work would focus on helping the couple remain friends while ending their romantic relationship.

This obligation would not be enforced by a third party, but one parent-partner could seek a court order to enforce the obligation against the other parent-partner. A court could not require a resistant parent to engage in the actual relationship work but could order the parent to attend an educational session touting the benefits of relationship work. Weiner believes creating an enforceable legal obligation does not necessarily mean parties will flock to the courts to seek enforcement but rather that it “should help couples internalize the value of relationship work and the social expectation of participation.” (p. 358)

Weiner claims that the “proposal is not as radical as it may sound” (p. 352). It is true, as Weiner notes, that both the federal and state governments are already involved in some form of relationship work: mandating mediation for custody and visitation disputes, requiring co-parenting education classes for separating and divorcing couples, and funding programs designed to strengthen family relationships, such as the federal Responsible Fatherhood program.

As I elaborate below, her proposal differs from these kinds of programs in meaningful ways, and therefore I think it is a significant departure. But audacity alone is not a problem. The real question is whether the proposal is good policy.

I am not so sure. In my own work, I, too, have argued that if the law wants to improve the vertical relationship between a parent and child, it needs to focus on the horizontal relationship between the two parents. Whether and how the parents get along deeply affects the ability of each parent to provide a child with the time and attention needed for healthy child development. Further, I have argued in favor of the kinds of programs that Weiner’s proposal builds on, particularly co-parenting classes for parents at the end of a romantic relationship. (I have also proposed a legal status that would attach at birth, which I called co-parent status, but whereas I dedicated a short section of a long law review article to the idea, Weiner has dedicated an entire book; therefore I want to focus on her proposed status, not mine.)

So why am I resistant to Weiner’s proposal while seeming to promote many of the same ideas? Read More


A Parent-Partner Experiment?

Merle Weiner’s A Parent-Partner Status for American Family Law is a marvelous achievement, well worth reading for anyone interested in family law and policy, and  contemporary debates about marriage, parenthood, and child-raising.  Prof. Weiner has read seemingly everything written in recent decades on marriage and parenting, across law, psychology, sociology, and policy science, and this learning is worked seamlessly into the present book.  A Parent-Partner Status is also superb in the way that it consistently presents fairly the likely arguments against her proposals, objections Weiner then answers carefully.


The basic background for Weiner’s argument is well-summarized in the book’s early chapters:  that both legal and social changes in recent decades have changed the way we understand family obligations.  The earlier approach made marriage central to determining the obligations (or lack thereof) of adults to their children, and co-parents to one another.   In the last 40 years, the Supreme Court held illegitimacy to be a suspect class under constitutional analysis, the Uniform Parentage Act made parental obligations largely independent of the parents’ marital status, and non-marital births have become both common and widely socially accepted.


A Parent-Partner Status is best understood as advocating two distinct but related objectives:  the creation of a strong social norm of appropriate co-parenting and the creation of a legal status of “parent-partner.”  The two are related, of course, not least in the ways that laws, even when un- or under-enforced, may still have value in expressing and reinforcing society’s approval or disapproval of different practices.


Weiner’s “parent-partner” status seems well-placed as a potential general social norm, in the sense that it is grounded on some fairly widely established views, while also going beyond those existing shared views.  Starting at foundational matters:  nearly everyone would agree that one should treat (all) others with respect and consideration.  And there would likely be equally strong agreement that additional duties would apply to the co-parent of one’s child.  Additionally, the idea that one is financially tied to one’s co-parent until the child is of age is the basic idea underlying the currently well-settled law of child support obligations.  The difference between Weiner’s parent-partner status and current child support law is that the proposed co-parent obligation is (also) to the co-parent; and the differences from existing conventional social and moral thought come in the effort to articulate precisely what those duties to the co-parent are or should be, and in determining whether the government should be involved in advocating for or enforcing those duties.


Under Weiner’s analysis, parent-partners are to exhibit fondness, flexibility, acceptance, togetherness, and empathy to one another.   They are subject to a (limited) duty to aid the other parent, a duty not to abuse the other parent physically or psychologically, an obligation of “relationship work” when first becoming parents and at the ending of the parents’ romantic relationship, a heightened requirement of substantive and procedural fairness in any agreement between the co-parents that purports to waive or alter their financial obligations to one another, and a duty of compensation for unfairly disproportionate caregiving (where the fairness of the caregiving arrangement would take into account multiple factors, including financial payments by the other parent).


Weiner recognizes that legislatures might make different choices about which duties to include in a parent-partner status, and that duties might be added or subtracted later based on experience with the status.  Additionally, with the exception of the caregiver payments, Weiner generally recommends caution in the remedies courts impose.  For example, the duty to do relationship work could be enforced only by an order to attend an informational session rather than by an order to go to relationship therapy; and the duty not to abuse would involve only a modest extension of existing domestic violence statutes (to cover parent-partners from conception. and to cover parent-partners even when they are not in an existing romantic relationship).


It is the duty of payment for unfairly disproportionate caregiving, where breaches would make the parent liable to court orders to pay compensation to the caregiver, that Weiner properly predicts to be the most controversial, and also the most difficult to implement.  There are problems both in determining when a co-parent has breached the duty, and in determining the appropriate compensation.  Weiner rejects the idea of trying to establish guidelines in advance, noting the wide range of fact situations (e.g., across divorced, cohabiting, or never-having-cohabited couples).  Weiner recognizes that the alternative of wide judicial discretion may evoke bad memories of the unpredictability, uncertainty, and wide range of outcomes that occurred with child support orders before that area of law was overtaken by guidelines.  However, the book argues that there may be no option but wide judicial discretion, with some borrowing from the (multiple and overlapping) theories now supporting spousal support (alimony), but with the hope that principles, standards, presumptions, or even guidelines might be developed over time by courts or legislatures.


As a prospective legal status, it is hard to predict how successful the parent-partner status would be, because of its relative novelty.  One can speculate, of course, regarding how well it would work, and there are reasons to be cautious or concerned.  There might be resistance to what could be seen as more intrusive government intervention in personal affairs (especially where the law goes beyond preventing abuse to requiring supportive behavior), and also reasonable concern that these sorts of rules (like many other family law rules) might come to have disproportionate effects on poor and minority communities (recall how the government came to pressure poor mothers to sue their partners for paternity orders and child support, or to have the ability to sue the fathers directly to reimburse the government for benefit payments; it is easy to imagine something similar happening with compensation rights for disproportionate caregiving).


Law in general, and family law in particular, are full of experiments that did not work out as expected – sometimes better than expected, sometimes less well than expected, and sometimes just different from expected.  In this group, one could clearly include no-fault divorce, covenant marriage, and the French PACS (Pacte civil de solidarité).  As with the early recognition in a handful of states of same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships, and eventually same-sex marriages, and the recognition in Washington State of the status of “Committed Intimate Relationships,” there are clear benefits to having new family law norms, rules and practices tried in individual states, as (to use Justice Brandeis’ famous phrasing) “a laboratory [for] novel social and economic experiments”.  Weiner’s “parent-partner” status is clearly promising enough to be worth a state experiment, or two or three or four, and then we can get a better sense of whether it can be structured in a way that allows its benefits to outweigh any costs.



FAN 81.1 (First Amendment News) Floyd Abrams, “Beyond the Reach of Government”

Floyd Abrams

Floyd Abrams

The following remarks were delivered at Yale Law School on Saturday, October 24, 2015 on the occasion of Floyd Abrams receiving the Yale Law School Association Award of Merit. Previous recipients include Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. The remarks below are posted with Mr. Abrams’ permission.  

* * * * 

My ticket of admission to this party today appears to be the First Amendment so I thought I’d distill all my learning on the subject into a five minute presentation. Draw what conclusions you choose from my presumption in doing so – the notion of a five-minute tour of the First Amendment may be a first in and of itself – but here we go.

First, we’re lucky, really lucky, to have it. Not just because it’s a good thing that we have a First Amendment, although of course it is, but because we came so perilously close to not having it at all. It’s worth recalling that the states that met in Philadelphia in 1789 to draft a Constitution unanimously voted not to have a bill of rights at all. Why, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 84, “declare that things should not be done which there is no power to do”? “Why,” he asked, “should it be said that liberty of the press should not be restrained when no power is given by which such restrictions may be imposed?” Only the unyielding position by Jefferson and others that, in Jefferson’s words, “a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth” led to the adoption of any bill of rights, let alone one with a First Amendment.

imagesSecond, for all of its 18th century lineage, the First Amendment may be best understood – I know Justice Scalia would not approve – as a 20th century, even second half of the 20th century, document. It wasn’t seriously cited in any number of Supreme Court opinions as a bulwark against government overreach until the enduring Holmes and Brandeis opinions (often in dissent) in the 1920’s; it wasn’t applied to the states until the 1920’s; and the first federal law held to be unconstitutional based on the First Amendment did not occur until 1965.

Third, the First Amendment is negative in nature. It says “Congress shall make no law” on purpose. It doesn’t promise freedom of the press; it promises that the government will not abridge it. That leaves lots of room for interpretation. But it does not permit the conclusion – sorry about this, Justice Breyer – that “first and foremost, the First Amendment seeks to facilitate self-government” by “encouraging the exchange of information and ideas which are necessary for citizens themselves to shape “public opinion” No.

The First Amendment certainly facilitates self-government. It certainly helps in the shaping of public opinion. But first and foremost, it does so by putting free speech and free press, as Madison put it, “beyond the reach of this Government.”

Over half a century ago, the essayist Norman Cousins put it this way: It is not “that democracy lacks affirmative values. The affirmative values are many and varied, but they all rest on a solid bedrock of restraints upon government.”

Fourth, any bill of rights and any First Amendment is only meaningful if the government it purports to limit is prepared to obey it – to treat it as binding law. Consider this alternative to the First Amendment: “Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, demonstration and of association.” Not bad, right? But that’s to be found in Article 67 of the Constitution of North Korea, one of the world’s truly despotic, murderous and freedom-destroying nations. Its asserted protection of free speech is a lie, nothing less, since, it is rooted neither in any concept of law, let alone individual liberty.

To return to my beginning: We are a lucky people in so many ways. I am lucky and so are you to have attended this great institution. And we’re all lucky to live in a nation in which freedom of speech is so rightly revered.

© Floyd Abrams, 2015


The Potential Harm to Low Income Families from the Parent-Partner Status


By Jane C. Murphy

In A Parent-Partner Status for American Family Law, Merle Weiner makes the case that strengthening the relationship between parents will enhance the well-being of children and benefit communities. She argues that the law should play a central role in fortifying parent to parent relationships by imposing legal obligations between parents that create the new status “Parent-Partner.” This new status is necessary, Weiner argues, because existing legal obligations created by marriage, cohabitation and the parent-child relationship are inadequate to create the kind of bond that is needed to sustain the strong relationship needed to co-parent healthy children. She demonstrates this by carefully and exhaustively examining all of the obligations the law currently imposes on adults who have children together, revealing in the process how limited the legal ties are between parents.


The book, like Weiner’s other scholarship, is beautifully and clearly written. Indeed, the first 300 + pages include such useful and enlightening analysis of existing law and scholarship about marriage, cohabitation and the parent-child relationship they would justify the book even before Weiner gets to the heart of her proposal—the five duties she proposes the law should create between parents. She cautions they are meant only to “provide a starting point for the conversation.” And I suspect this book will, indeed, start many conversations among scholars, lawyers, policymakers and parents.

The duties she proposes are: a duty to aid, a duty not to abuse, a duty to participate in “relationship work,” a duty of loyalty when contracting and a duty “give care or share.” She anticipates a wide range of objections to her proposals and responds to these objections thoroughly and, for the most part, persuasively. But, for me, questions remain about the efficacy of some of these duties and their potentially harmful impact on the low income parents and families who are becoming the majority demographic in today’s family courts.


As someone who both teaches Family Law and supervises law students representing parents in child access cases, I appreciate Weiner’s deep concern about the tenuous relationships between many parents. I also agree that the strength of the bond between parents affects the welfare of children (and their parents) and that, despite this, the law does little or nothing to nothing strengthens that bond. I have seen both the father who threatens to walk away “for good” if he doesn’t get joint custody and the mother whose control over access to the children discourages any paternal role beyond child support payments. While most parents fall between such extremes, we regularly see couples who have had children together who are strangers to one another or mistreat each other in ways that sever any bond that ever existed between them. As a result, I understand the impulse to look to the law for something beyond child support to connect unmarried or divorced parents.


But I worry that Weiner’s proposals will have the greatest impact on non-marital, low income families who will have few of the protections that marriage provides at break-up. I am concerned that enforcement of at least two of these duties will do more harm than good.


I have no problem with three of the five duties. The duty not abuse is hard to argue against. While some are beginning to broadly question the efficacy of legal remedies for those experiencing domestic violence, Weiner’s suggestions for modifying civil protection orders make good sense. Having a child in common with the alleged abuser (or being pregnant with his child) should be enough to make one eligible for an order of protection. And Weiner proposes two other changes to the typical protection order statute that would certainly benefit many, including parent-partners: including psychological abuse in protection order statutes’ definition of abuse and eliminating mandatory stay away orders.


Weiner also proposes making parent-partner physical abuse a specific crime. Acknowledging the concerns expressed by a number of scholars that strengthening the criminal response to abuse can disempower victims, she believes that it would ultimately benefit parents and children by conveying “a stronger message” about the particular harms to both the direct victim and her children when physical abuse is perpetrated against a parent-partner. This seems like an important message that still needs to be communicated to batterers, law enforcement and the community at large.


The duty to aid, requiring a parent to aid the other parent “when the parent-partner is physically imperiled and it is reasonable to lend aid,” would probably be, like the existing duty between spouses, largely a “symbolic measure.” Parent-partners, married or not, make other symbolic promises to each other in legal binding documents called parenting plans. These include promises to respect one another and act in ways that support the children’s relationship with both parents. It is hard to imagine lawsuits to enforce these promises or a future duty to aid between unmarried parents. But such a duty might have an important expressive value underscoring the “ethic of care” that we’d like to see exist between two people who share a child.


The proposed duty of loyalty when parent-partners contract with one another also seems like a good idea and consistent with where the law is heading. Any good family lawyer will tell unmarried parties with assets and income who are contemplating cohabitation, having a child together or both, to enter into an agreement making clear each party’s rights and obligations. This duty is likely to affect only those with the resources and lawyers to engage in such planning. But, much like with prenuptial agreements, such a duty may provide grounds for vulnerable unmarried cohabitants to set aside unfair agreements negotiated without full disclosure or other protections.


But the duty to “give care or share” and, to a lesser extent, the duty to engage in “relationship work” may result in obligations and burdens that do more harm than good for low income families. My reservations about these duties stem from my concern that more low income families may be forced into court as a result. I have written elsewhere about the risks to poor families in today’s family courts. Most cannot obtain free legal services or afford to hire their own attorneys. They find themselves in courts that are increasingly outsourcing family cases to mediation and other informal decision-making. This results in a reduced reliance on legal norms in these courts and broad authority vested in non-legal personnel with little accountability. Moreover, the ambitious therapeutic goals of these courts leads to greater state intervention as the granting of legal remedies is tied to participation in “services and treatment.”


In contrast, families with the resources to hire lawyers and make choices about dispute resolution options reach agreements outside of court and bypass the range of interventions that come with any dispute between parents today. To the extent that these two new duties Weiner proposes will result in further state intervention that will disproportionately affect poor families, I worry that they will result in further loss of privacy and control that will be both destabilizing to the parents and children these duties were intended to benefit. While requiring such loss of privacy in exchange for legal remedies may not be unconstitutional, it strikes me as bad policy.


The duty to engage in “relationship work” at the time of the child’s birth or the end of the romantic relationship sounds a lot like, as Weiner acknowledges, child access mediation and/or parent education programs now offered or mandated in most state courts. In addition to the risks surrounding referrals of couples with relationships marked by domestic violence, which Weiner acknowledges, government sponsored “relationship work” may suffer from the same misplaced assumptions that make parent education and court-based mediation ill-suited for many low income parents.


A key assumption in these programs is that parents have established relationships with each other and with any children involved in the dispute. While the assumption of a shared past may be accurate for some parent-partners, it is much less likely to hold for others. Unmarried parents, in particular, often have little experience raising children together. Indeed, studies estimate that less than half of all unmarried mothers are living with the child’s father at the time a child is born. These never married couples who we are trying to engage in relationship work will face the daunting task of initiating their role as parents at the same time as they are attempting to define their own relationship. Weiner is probably correct that the number of actions to enforce this duty will be relatively few. But one can imagine that, social service agencies, therapeutic jurisprudence enthusiasts or others might just add a check box for “relationship work” education to form pleadings to establish paternity and/or child support, thus giving courts another set of obligations to routinely impose on the mostly low income fathers who end up in court in these cases. A sanction requiring attendance at a session explaining the value of relationship work may, as Weiner describes it, just be “a brief court appearance.” But going to family court without a lawyer is both risky and burdensome, particularly if you are a low income father of color and this appearance is added to the other interventions low income parents experience in today’s family courts.


The duty to “give care or share”– to pay compensation to the other parent for any disproportionate caregiving– raises even greater concerns. Again, my clinical experience representing caregivers who struggle, with or without child support, to raise children alone makes such a proposal appealing. But the likelihood that cash strapped mothers will seek to enforce this duty seems strongest here. As an increasingly large number of former TANF recipients get cut off from public benefits, one can imagine the pressure a single parent raising children will feel to look to the other parent for some financial relief, thus ending up in court as adversaries once again. An even scarier—and probably still remote—possibility is that the state may see this financial remedy as a vehicle for reimbursement for those few parents who still receive public benefits to support their children.



Weiner, of course, considers the plight of low-income families throughout the book. She recognizes that this duty may have the greatest impact on non-marital parents and that most of those parents are poor. She also recognizes that harsh sanctions threatened or brought by one parent against the other will cause damage in these relationships but believes the benefits outweigh any potential harm. She, in fact, identifies poor mothers as among those suffering the greatest “leisure deficit” and most in need of caregiver compensation by poor fathers who have left all the hard work of parenthood to the mothers.


But I fear unintended consequences. Just like the ill-effects few of us saw coming from aggressive child support enforcement, using courts to create “fairness” in caregiving may end up destabilizing rather than strengthening fragile families. One can imagine judgments for caregiver compensation that go unpaid driving parents underground, undermining any hope of future economic health, and resulting in sanctions like license suspension and incarceration that destroy family relationships.


Before we consider adopting another set of obligations that will force more poor families into court, we need to spend more time thinking about how to make our current dispute resolution system more responsive to the needs of all families. As long as the dispute resolution options that preserve privacy, limit state intervention and permit party control over the process are only available to the wealthy, creating new legal duties between parents will disproportionally harm low income families.



Justice Breyer and International Copyright

Justice Breyer has a new book out that discusses the importance of international and comparative law to the Court’s work. I find this ironic given Justice Breyer’s position in several of the Court’s major copyright decisions.  In Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003), Golan v. Holder (2012), and Kirtsaeng v. Wiley (2013), Breyer’s analysis consistently discounted international or comparative factors in either assessing the constitutionality of a copyright statute or interpreting such a statute.  To wit:

In Eldred, Justice Breyer dissented and argued that Congress’s extension of the copyright term for existing works was invalid.  He took this view in spite of the fact that Congress took this step (in part) to match a decision by the European Union on the appropriate length of copyrights.

In Golan, Justice Breyer dissented and argued that Congress could not constitutionally remove works from the public domain.  He took that position in spite of the fact that Congress took this step to bring the United States into compliance with the Berne Convention.

Finally, in Kirtseang Justice Breyer authoring the Court’s opinion construing the Copyright Act as providing that the first sale doctrine applied to copies of a copyrighted work made abroad.  He did this in spite of the assertion (made in dissent by Justice Ginsburg) that the Court’s interpretation contradicted the United States’s position in global copyright negotiations on “international exhaustion.”

Now all of these positions might be perfectly justified.  (Indeed, I think that Breyer was right in Golan, though wrong in Eldred.) I just think it shows that “taking certain considerations into account” says little about how cases should be resolved.


What does it mean to vindicate a First Amendment right of free expression?

The following short essay is substituting for this week’s issue of First Amendment News, which will resume next week.

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In times past if you wanted to get a real sense of the Supreme Court’s record on civil liberties you prepared charts indicating the Justices’ voting record in sustaining a claim of right. Take, for example, C. Herman Pritchett’s The Roosevelt Court: A Study in Judicial Politics and Values (1948). In chapter 9 of that book (p. 254, table 23) he calculated the percentage of times each Justice voted “pro” in civil liberties cases. Likewise in Civil Liberties and the Vinson Court (1954), he did something of the same. In chapter 10 of that book (p. 225, table 10), he calculated the percentage of times each Justice voted to “support . . . libertarian claims.” Justices Frank Murphy and Wiley Rutledge were at the top with a 100% record, while Chief Justice Fred Vinson and Justice Stanley Reed were well below at the bottom.

imagesHelpful as such studies were in past times, I wonder about their value in today’s tug-and-pull First Amendment world of free expression cases. Consider, for example, the record of the Roberts Court in the 41 such cases its has decided since 2006. It has upheld a First Amendment claim of right in 17 of 41 cases (in one case, a per curiam, the Court vacated and remanded the matter). That is a 41% record. But is it a 41% record of vindicating such First Amendment rights?

In one sense, the answer is simple: yes. The parties raised a First Amendment claim and a majority of the Court sustained it. End of story. Or is it?

To raise this question is to raise a more puzzling one. What exactly does it mean to vindicate a First Amendment freedom of expression claim? In today’s volatile atmosphere of supercharged liberalism and fortified conservatism, it can mean almost anything depending on which side of the ideological fence one stands. If you have a collective or “democratic” political-theory view of the Amendment — e.g. like that of Justice Stephen Breyer or Dean Robert Post or Professor Burt Neuborne — then that very much informs your constitutional calculus as to whether a First Amendment right has been vindicated or violated. By that collective constitutional measure, the “fairness doctrine” and he “net neutrality” one are formulas for vindicating First Amendment rights. But that view is radically different from, say, an atomistic understanding of the First Amendment like the one championed by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Floyd Abrams, and the Cato Institute.

Perhaps this is a modern-day version of an old debate. Merely consider the thinking displayed by Justice Byron White in his dissent in Gertz v. Welch (1974): “It is not at all inconceivable that virtually unrestrained defamatory remarks about private citizens will discourage them from speaking out and concerning themselves with social problems. This would turn the First Amendment on its head.” Likewise, analyzing the relationship between the First Amendment and copyright law created a sharp division in the Court in Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises (1985) owing to the similar problem of a constitutional guaranty at war with itself. What makes such “constitutional tension unusual, as Professor Eugene Volokh once tagged it in a slightly different context,” is the conflict between opposing views of the First Amendment as to what it means to vindicate that right. After all, the tension here is not between the First Amendment and other rights (such as equal protection or a right to a fair trial), but between the First Amendment and itself.

To return to the free-speech mindsets of Breyer, Post , Neuborne and company, cases such as McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) — both of which sustained rights claims — cannot be listed in the “pro” First Amendment column. Worse still, they are listed as “anti” First Amendment rulings. Much the same could be said of Harris v. Quinn (2014) where the Court divided 5-4 along conservative-liberal lines and struck down a compulsory collection of union fees provision. By the same new liberal norm, a case such as Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (2015) (denying a claim of right) might be seen as a “pro” First Amendment case.

Phrased another way, one First Amendment “right” is being swapped out for another but in the same case. Of course, this may seem strange because one thinks of rights on one side and the government on the other. And remember: rights runs against the government. So how can there be any swapping since the government does not have rights? — it has only constitutionally authorized powers.

This riddle might be “solved” in two ways: (1) by the government siding with one conception of First Amendment rights (e.g., with labor unions in compulsory support cases), or (2) by a third party entering a suit to assert its own version of a First Amendment right (e.g., invoking an argument in line with Breyer’s dissent in McCutcheon). To be sure, such moves might, among other things, implicate Article III standing issues. There is also the peculiar specter of the government siding with one conception of First Amendment in order to defeat another. In the old world, the government could abridge a First Amendment right, whereas in the new world it “vindicates” a right (depending on which side of the constitutional divide one is on).

In all of this there is more at work than dethroning a once-recognized constitutional right (as in the case of the demise of economic due process). There is, I think, a move to both defeat certain tenets of First Amendment law (e.g., campaign finance) and to erect others (net neutrality). In the case of the latter, the goal is to develop new notions of First Amendment law (e.g., in the compulsory support of unions line of cases and in the fairness doctrine area).

The old paradigm: Liberals demanded the vindication of First Amendment claims while conservatives tendered reasons why societal interests should trump such claims.

The new paradigm: Conservatives demand the vindication of certain First Amendment claims while liberals tender reasons why societal interests should override such claims.

The result: Conflicting norms of First Amendment rights. In this new constitutional environment, the conflict-of-rights dilemma of the Religion Clauses (Establishment vs Free Exercise) is destined to become the rights-in-conflict dilemma of the Free Speech and Press Clauses.

imagesOf course, this remove-and-restructure constitutional mindset is still in its theoretical phase and has yet to garner any formal recognition by a majority of the current Court. But now that this cat is out of its conceptual bag, might it begin to influence the way lawyers litigate free expression First Amendment cases? (Something of that very thing has already occurred, though not in entirely explicit way, in an amicus brief filed on behalf of Norman Dorsen, Aryeh Neier, Burt Neuborne and John Shattuck (“Past leaders” of the ACLU) in the Williams-Yulee case.)

What are we to make of this new way of considering whether a First Amendment right has been upheld or not? How are we to gauge whether our rights are being vindicated or violated? Will First Amendment law begin to change, both jurisprudentially and operationally?

While you ponder such questions, step back and ask yourself one more question: Have we entered some postmodern maze in which we have lost our constitutional bearing . . . or we are struggling to find our way out in the hope of discovering a new one?


A sequel to this essay appears in the Boston University Law Review Annex symposium and is titled “The Liberal Divide & the Future of Free Speech” (commentary on Danielle Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace).


State Sovereign Immunity in Another State

In looking over the cases that the Court will be hearing in the next few months, one notable (if less sexy) one is Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.  Hyatt presents the question of whether a state can deny sovereign immunity to other states in circumstances where the home state gets sovereign immunity in its state courts.  One of the Questions Presented asks the Court to overrule Nevada v. Hall, a 1979 decision holding that states did not have sovereign immunity in the courts of other states.

Hall would appear to be on thin ice.  It is inconsistent with the line of decisions that began in 1996 with Seminole Tribe and give the states broad sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment. Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote Seminole Tribe as the Chief Justice, dissented in Hall on grounds similar to what he later turned into law on related issues.

If the Court does overrule Hall, it will be interesting to see whether Justices Sotomayor and Kagan decide to embrace Seminole Tribe under stare decisis.  One can expect Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, who dissented in Seminole Tribe, to adhere to the view that this entire line of authority is wrongheaded.  The new Justices have not opined on this question, though, and thus it is possible that Hyatt will reveal whether Seminole Tribe has become settled law or not.


How CalECPA Improves on its Federal Namesake

Last week, Governor Brown signed the landmark California Electronic Communications Privacy Act[1] (CalECPA) into law and updated California privacy law for modern communications. Compared to ECPA, CalECPA requires warrants, which are more restricted, for more investigations; provides more notice to targets; and furnishes as a remedy both court-ordered data deletion and statutory suppression.  Moreover, CalECPA’s approach is comprehensive and uniform, eschewing the often irrational distinctions that have made ECPA one of the most confusing and under-protective privacy statutes in the Internet era.

Extended Scope, Enhanced Protections, and Simplified Provisions

CalECPA regulates investigative methods that ECPA did not anticipate. Under CalECPA, government entities in California must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before they may access electronic communications contents and metadata from service providers or from devices.  ECPA makes no mention of device-stored data, even though law enforcement agents increasingly use StingRays to obtain information directly from cell phones. CalECPA subjects such techniques to its warrant requirement. While the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Riley required that agents either obtain a warrant or rely on an exception to the warrant requirement to search a cell phone incident to arrest, CalECPA requires a warrant for physical access to any device, not just a cell phone, which “stores, generates, or transmits electronic information in electronic form.” CalECPA clearly defines the exceptions to the warrant requirement by specifying what counts as an emergency, who can give consent to the search of a device, and related questions.

ECPA’s 1986-drafted text only arguably covers the compelled disclosure of location data stored by a service provider, and does not clearly require a warrant for such investigations. CalECPA explicitly includes location data in the “electronic communication information” that is subject to the warrant requirement when a government entity accesses it from either a device or a service provider (broadly defined).  ECPA makes no mention of location data gathered in real-time or prospectively, but CalECPA requires a warrant both for those investigations and for stored data investigations. Whenever a government entity compels the “the production of or access to” location information, including GPS data, from a service provider or from a device, CalECPA requires a warrant.

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