1

Promising Loves, Loving Promises

Martha Ertman has always been an original — in the way she crafts her legal scholarship and the way she lives her life. Love’s Promises brings the two together in compelling fashion. It starts with Martha’s visit to a fertility clinic in (of all places) Salt Lake City, where she and Victor arrange for artificial insemination and plan for the child they will have together — as a gay man and a lesbian. Over the course of the book, they enter into new relationships and Martha eventually marries Karen all while she and Victor reaffirm their commitment to the child. Their story is a fascinating read in itself — how will they do it, what happens when each enters into new partnerships, how will they reconcile their family with Martha’s Unitarian traditions, Victor’s Southern Christian roots, and Karen’s Jewish heritage, and how do they manage to raise a child together with a father who lives in Texas, two mothers in Washington, D.C., teaching stints in Seattle and summers in Provincetown? It can’t possibly work, can it? And even if a talented trio such as Martha, Victor and Karen pull it off, what does it have to do with the law?

The book’s answer is that it says a lot about the law — about the use of both formal contracts and what Martha calls unenforceable “deals” to structure family life. It also explores the law’s limits, but in ways that still makes contracts — and other individually negotiated arrangements — central to emerging definitions of family life.
The book’s publication, the month before the much-anticipated Supreme Court opinion, shows how far we have come in creating and recognizing many different kinds of families. And Love’s Promises gives important validation not just to different kinds of families, but to different kinds of arrangements within families that reflect how adults choose to live their lives. The how-to manual aspects of the book really provide a useful template that should foster more reflection as people enter and seek to preserve intimate relationships. Encouraging people to sign off on their mutual understandings at the get-go (Martha uses lots of idioms in the book, part of what give the book its wonderfully approachable flavor) should help them down the road when those mutual understandings falter. Read More

2

In Praise of Love’s Promises

I just returned from an AALS Workshop on “Shifting Foundations in Family Law,” where Martha Ertman read from and presented the ideas in Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families.  The reception was enthusiastic and admiring — exactly my reaction to her wonderful new book.  Martha seamlessly blends memoir, case stories and legal analysis to create a compelling and provocative narrative that beautifully illustrates her central point — that love and contracts are not opposites, but  complementary, and that exchanges — both big and small, formal and informal —  create and sustain families, both the conventional type that she calls Plan A and the less common (but equally valuable) varities that she dubs Plan B.

One of the book’s most impressive features is its combination of personal memoir and legal analysis.  Often seen as incompatible, particularly in the academic world, these two genres reinforce and enrich each other in Martha’s book.  While Martha has described the snippets of memoir at the beginning of each chapter as the “sweet coating that makes the legal medicine easier to swallow,” the juxtaposition does much more than that.  Although Martha may not have intended this, her decision to combine memoir with serious legal analysis is another example of how things sometimes thought of as incompatible not only co-exist, but enhance each other’s power.  Small wonder that, after reading the first 30 pages of the book,  my husband exclaimed that “This ought to be a movie!”

Martha’s legal analysis covers an immense amount of ground — touching on almost every area of family law.  Given that breadth, and the fact that she is writing for both a lay and a legal audience, she does an impressive job of describing and explaining the law.  Still, there are a few things that I wish the book had done more thoroughly or more convincingly.  One is to delineate more clearly which type of family agreements she thinks the law should enforce as “contracts” and which types she thinks should remain mere “deals” — important  to the parties who enter into them, but not giving rise to legally enforceable rights or remedies.  For family law scholars, who largely already agree with Martha’s basic insight about the compatibility of love and contracts, this is the $64,000 question and Martha does not provide much help in answering it.  For example, in some contexts (such as post-adoption contact agreements (PACA’s), she seems to suggest that the degree of formality should matter, while in others,  (such as cohabitation contracts), she bemoans the law’s insistence on a writing as a prerequisite to enforceability.  To be fair, family law academics probably are not Martha’s target audience, and she is justifiably more concerned with convincing a skeptical public that love and contracts are not opposites and that exchange plays an important role in creating and sustaining families.  But for those who agree with her basic insight, Martha provides few markers to answer what she describes as the “big whoop” in contract law — drawing a line between the kinds of (family) promises that courts enforce and the ones they won’t. Read More

1

What’s Law Got to Do with It? Reflections on Martha Ertman’s “Love’s Promises”

Western political thought has viewed love as something that can exist only in the absence of law. Law is for the public sphere. In the private sphere the language of law should not be spoken, because it can only contaminate relationships, injecting terminology of rights and obligations where the language should be that of love, trust and caring. Accordingly, a nineteenth century common law doctrine deemed contracts between spouses as unenforceable. Not surprisingly, it benefitted those who were in control of the family’s assets, the men. Husbands who promised to pay their wives for their work at home could easily avoid enforcement of their promises arguing that a husband and a wife cannot, by definition, enter a legally binding promise with each other.

This doctrine lived well into the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1970s Feminist critique of this doctrine has called attention to its fallacies. Susan Moller Okin argued in “Justice, Gender, and the Family” that the notion of unenforceability of agreements between spouses magnifies the vulnerability of women within the family and servers the interests of men. Contracts and legal commitments not only will not poison marital relationships but will promote and ensure more justice and equality for women.

Similarly, Patricia Williams has powerfully demonstrated how important it is for one’s sense of personhood to be considered legally competent to become a party to an enforceable contract; her now classical 1987 article “Alchemical Notes” discussed the importance of contracts to African Americans, who had been, as slaves, subjects of contracts, but never parties to them. Now “Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families” joins this important lineage of scholarly paradigm-shifting works on the importance of contracts for minorities and disenfranchised individuals and communities, showing the inherent connection between family law, contact law, and the recognition in the full humanity of LGBTs and other individuals who want to create the families of their choice. Read More

0

UCLA Law Review Vol. 62, Issue 5

Volume 62, Issue 5 (June 2015)
Articles

Wills Law on the Ground David Horton 1094
Prison Abolition and Grounded Justice Allegra M. McLeod 1156
Risk Regulation, Extraterritoriality, and Domicile: The Constitutionalization of American Choice of Law, 1850–1940 Clyde Spillenger 1240
Faith-Based Intellectual Property Mark A. Lemley 1328

 

Comments

A Critique of the Secular Exceptions Approach to Religious Exemptions Colin A. Devine 1348
Restoring the Fifteenth Amendment: The Constitutional Right to an Undiluted Vote Stephanie N. Kang 1392
1

Mushy Language and the Limits of Intimate Agreements: Reflections on Love’s Promises

It is an honor to be invited to comment on Professor Martha Ertman’s thought-provoking and excellent book. I have taught family law for 15 years and devote a lot of class time to assisted reproduction, adoption, palimony, and prenuptial agreements—in other words, contracts. However, until I read Love’s Promises, I, like many others, did not fully appreciate the ubiquity of contracts in families and family law. After all, we rarely refer to agreements between intimate partners as “contracts”—apparently preferring the softer “agreement” as in co-parenting agreement, cohabitation agreement, or prenuptial agreement—precisely because we don’t think (or want to think) about contracts and love in the same sentence. Professor Ertman deftly demonstrates that we all rely on contracts and non-legally binding agreements (which she calls “deals”) in our intimate relationships to our benefit. I found it impossible to read Love’s Promises without examining my own family relationships and noticing how many contracts and deals we have created. But in the end Love’s Promises is a love story between co-parents, between a parent and a child, and between intimate partners—a love story made possible by carefully thought-out contracts. Read More

1

Good Thing This is a Slow Week

I will be leaving for a family vacation tomorrow, and thus I doubt that I will have any instant reaction to the cases that are handed down tomorrow and Friday.  I’m not clear whether Friday will be the last day in any event.

1

Love and Contracts, and Fairness Too

It is not an easy thing to keep the concepts of love and contracts in the same mental frame, but Martha Ertman in Love’s Promises comes as close as any legal scholar ever has in showing the affinities between the two. Indeed, the case she makes for the positive role that enforceable contracts and unenforceable deals play in structuring and protecting what she calls (in a nonjudgmental way) Plan B families is compelling. (Examples of Plan B families are cohabiting households and those led by adoptive parents or parents who have used reproductive technologies.) I am particularly struck by how persuasive the book is in presenting negotiation processes (between cohabitants; prospective spouses; donors and recipients of gametes; and birth and adoptive parents) as generally salutary and beneficial, quite independently of the specific contracts and deals that might arise from them.

We know from experience that almost all family relationships are constructed around informal negotiations, compromises, and arrangements, the details of which are usually implicit and assumed. At the end of the day, Martha is encouraging all of us, regardless of our familial, sexual, and parental predilections, to make the bargaining and the deal-making more explicit. Martha’s book makes a compelling case for why Plan B families can benefit considerably from embracing agreements of all sorts.

Martha’s love affair with contracts, of course, fits nicely with our pervasive twenty-first century capitalist ethos that prioritizes choice, autonomy, and self-determination. Sometimes it seems as if all (or almost all) of us in this country are libertarians of some stripe or another, with some of us emphasizing autonomy in personal and sexual matters and others of us emphasizing economic freedom. On the other side of both sets of debates stands the intermeddling government (if we are feeling polite) or evil bureaucrats (if we are feeling less polite).

Martha is undoubtedly correct that when the government, for example, regulates the use of reproductive technologies (as several European countries have done), it tends to do so at the expense of Plan B families. Nonetheless, it is important to avoid simple dichotomies that present the private as the “good” and the public as the “bad” or “problematic.” Ultimately, I do not believe we can have a fair and normatively appealing contract-based regime in family law without significant involvement by the state. This is because the relationships that Martha writes about are often characterized by significant power and economic disparities. A regime of “pure contract law” (note the scare quotes) can exacerbate rather than mitigate the effects of those disparities.

As Martha recognizes, for example, there are usually considerable power and economic disparities between birth and adoptive parents. In order for Post-Adoption Contract Agreements (PACAs) to protect the interests of birth parents effectively and fairly, it may be necessary not only for courts to interpret them in ways that are favorable to birth parents, but for the government more generally to inform them of the PACA option, educate them about their advisability, and guide them through their enforcement.

There can also be significant power and economic disparities within married and unmarried relationships. When it comes to the former, we need to make sure, through government policies, educational campaigns, and judicial enforcement mechanisms, that a contract regime of prenuptial agreements does not unduly favor wealthier prospective spouses who might be able, if left entirely to their own devices, to set the terms of one-sided contracts. As for unmarried partners, we need to make sure that the more economically powerful parties in cohabiting relationships are not able to dance around contractual obligations after those relationships end in ways that are unfair to the less powerful partners (usually those who work more inside the home).

To her credit, Martha does not allow her passion for contracts to blind her to economic and social realities as reflected in power imbalances within many family relationships. As a result, while the descriptive parts of the book celebrate stories of love and contracts, the normative parts are infused with calls for thoughtful enforcement mechanisms aimed at promoting not only freedom of choice, also but fairness for homemakers (of all genders, sexual orientations, and economic classes). Although the contract aspects of Love’s Promises may get most of the attention (as reflected, for example, in Judge Richard Posner’s blurb on the book’s back cover celebrating “free choice” and “private contractual arrangements”), they are only one part of the story that Martha tells.

It would be a mistake, then, to view Love’s Promises as a simple clarion call for the private ordering of family law. Yes, Martha has great faith in the power of agreements to clarify, structure, and protect families of all kinds. But to accomplish those objectives in fair and just ways, she makes clear that we need laws and policies that are highly attuned to disparities in power imbalances and social biases that harm those who, for reasons of choice, gender, or relative powerlessness, are more involved in homemaking than in moneymaking. To me that is as an important takeaway from Love’s Promises as is its fusion of love and families on the one hand and contracts and deals on the other. The contracts may be the sexy part, but the guaranteeing fairness is the hard one.

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2

FAN 65 (First Amendment News) Does Justice Thomas believe in a race-hate exception to the First Amendment?

The Ku Klx Klan marched frequently in Savannah [where Clarence Thomas grew up], and Klan members dominated the police ranks of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s . . . Ken Foskett, Judging Thomas: The Life & Times of Clarence Thomas (2004)

As a child in the Deep South, I’d grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan . . . . Clarence ThomasMy Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir (2007)

One has to wonder whether his vote was not at least in some measure affected by the particular license plate at issue — displaying the Confederate flag. David Cole, quoted in the National Law Journal, June 22, 2015

If you would better understand Justice Clarence Thomas’s vote in the Confederate license-plate case handed down last week, it may be helpful to turn the clock back to December 11, 2002. That was a rare moment in the modern history of the Supreme Court. For it was one of the few times that Justice Thomas spoke up during oral arguments. The case was Virginia v. Black (audio here). As revealed in the transcript of that case involving a First Amendment challenge to a state cross-burning statute, Justice Thomas expressed himself boldly when he questioned Michael Dreeben of the Department of Justice. “Thomas spoke [i]n a deep, booming, voice, shaking with emotion”:

Justice Clarence Thomas (Randy Snyder, AP)

Justice Clarence Thomas (Randy Snyder, Associated Press)

Justice Thomas: “[I]t’s my understanding that we had almost 100 years of lynching and activity in the South by the Knights of Camellia and . . . the Ku Klux Klan,  and this was a reign of terror and the cross was a symbol of that reign of terror. . . [Wasn’t] that significantly greater than [any] intimidation or a threat?”

Mr. Dreeben: “Well, I think they’re coextensive, because it is –“

Justice Thomas: “Well, my fear is, Mr. Dreeben, that you’re actually understating the symbolism [and] the effect of the cross, the burning cross. I indicated, I think, in the Ohio case, that the cross was I indicated, . . . that the cross was not a religious symbol and that it . . . was intended to have a virulent effect.  And . . .  I think that what you’re attempting to do is to fit this into our jurisprudence rather than stating more clearly what the cross was intended to accomplish and, indeed, that it is unlike any symbol in our society.”

Justice Thomas was equally forceful in his published dissent in that First Amendment case: “‘The world’s oldest, most persistent terrorist organization is not European or even Middle Eastern in origin. Fifty years before the Irish Republican Army was organized, a century before Al Fatah declared its holy war on Israel, the Ku Klux Klan was actively harassing, torturing and murdering in the United States. Today . . . its members remain fanatically committed to a course of violent opposition to social progress and racial equality in the United States.” M. Newton & J. Newton, The Ku Klux Klan: An Encyclopedia vii (1991). To me, the majority’s brief history of the Ku Klux Klan only reinforces this common understanding of the Klan as a terrorist organization, which, in its endeavor to intimidate, or even eliminate those its dislikes, uses the most brutal of methods.”

In the News

Judge Andrew Napolitano: “NAACP’s call to prosecute hate groups violates First Amendment – hate speech is protected,Bizpac Review, June 23, 2015 (Fox News video clip)

It is true, nonetheless, that Justice Thomas signed onto Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992). That case involved a successful First Amendment challenge to a state law prohibiting the display of a symbol that one knows or has reason to know “arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender.” (Justice Thomas was silent during oral arguments in R.A.V.)

In his dissent in Virginia v. Black, howeverJustice Thomas sought to disassociate himself from any expansive reading of R.A.V.: “I believe that the majority errs in imputing an expressive component to the activity in question . . . (relying on one of the exceptions to the First Amendment’s prohibition on content-based discrimination outlined in R. A. V. v. St. Paul) . . . . In my view, whatever expressive value cross burning has, the legislature simply wrote it out by banning only intimidating conduct undertaken by a particular means.” But there was more here than adherence to precedent; there was the matter of understanding the nature of bigotry: “In every culture,” wrote Thomas, “certain things acquire meaning well beyond what outsiders can comprehend. That goes for both the sacred and the profane. I believe that cross burning is the paradigmatic example of the latter.”

And then there was his vote and concurrence in Capitol Square Review & Advisory Board v. Pinette (1995), wherein he wrote: “I join the Court’s conclusion that petitioner’s exclusion of the Ku Klux Klan’s cross cannot be justified on Establishment Clause grounds. But the fact that the legal issue before us involves the Establishment Clause should not lead anyone to think that a cross erected by the Ku Klux Klan is a purely religious symbol. The erection of such a cross is a political act, not a Christian one. In Klan ceremony, the cross is a symbol of white supremacy and a tool for the intimidation and harassment of racial minorities, Catholics, Jews, Communists, and any other groups hated by the Klan.”

1000Admittedly, there any number of reasons (nuanced ones) that might explain Justice Thomas’s votes in R.A.V. and Pinette, his dissent in Virginia v. Black, and his vote in the 5-4 ruling in Walker v. Sons of Confederate VeteransBut in light of that vote, and mindful of Justice Samuel Alito’s compelling dissent in Walker, one wonders: Could it be that lingering beneath all of this is some sympathy for a kind of a race-hate exception to the First Amendment? I assert nothing definitive here; I am only suggesting that there may be something in Thomas’s thinking that could allow for an exception to current First Amendment doctrine. Or consider this: Might racial bigotry be an important factor in Justice Thomas’s application of judicial formulas such as the incitement test?  In that regard, one would think that Justice Thomas might well agree with a point Justice Elena Kagan (who was in the majority) made during oral arguments in Walker:

Mr. James George: “Well, the ­­ this Court’s rule ­­ law on incitement, going back to Brandenburg v. Ohio and the Ku Klux Klan rally that this Court decided was not incitement, it ­­ is pretty thin at this point in our history, because I don’t know what the rule of incitement would be today.”

Justice Kagan: “No, but Mr. George, just the worst of the worst, whether it’s the swastika or whether it’s the most offensive racial epithet that you can imagine, and if that were on a license plate where it really is provoking violence of some kind. You know, somebody is going to ram into that car . . . .”­­

Similarly, Justice Thomas might well approve of the following statement made during oral arguments by Justice Stephen Breyer (author of the majority opinion in Walker): “Now, is there something to be said for Texas? Yes. What they’re trying to do is to prevent their official imprimatur from being given to speech that offends people.” Not just any offense, but a racial offense. It is precisely that kind of racial offense that motivates the current campaign in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.

While his early votes in cases such as R.A.V. and Pinette suggest that race is not a determinative factor in Justice Thomas’s First Amendment jurisprudence, since 2002 there seems to have been shift in his view. Both his dissent in Virginia v. Black and his vote in Walker may indeed be signs of that purported shift. In the earlier, pre-Black cases, Justice Thomas voted to sustain the First Amendment claim but then voiced his disapproval of the bigoted speech at issue. In the post-Black cases, however, Justice Thomas voted to deny the First Amendment claim in such cases.

Of course, there is a good dollop of speculation here, which is therefore not beyond fair challenge. That said, sometimes it is easy to be oblivious to the obvious, to that which transcends niceties and nuances. And that something may be a key factor in Justice Thomas’s constitutional take on race-hate speech and the First Amendment. Again, I do not offer this as a hard-and-fast conclusion, but rather as something to consider — think of it as a possibility waiting to be proven.

Professor Scott Gerber

Professor Scott Gerber

Given my reservations, I invited Professor Scott Gerber, author of First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas (2002), to comment on my hypothesis: “I agree with your perceptive observation about Justice Thomas’s approach to race-hate speech and the First Amendment,” he told me. “Indeed, Justice Thomas has come as close as any member of the Court ever has to accepting the Critical Race Theory approach to the issue. I have long mentioned this to my students when I teach Virginia v. Black, and I made a similar observation in a symposium essay I wrote on Justice Thomas’s First Amendment jurisprudence. The Court’s recent Confederate license plate decision provides additional support for this conclusion, and it also reminds us of how sophisticated Justice Thomas’s thinking is, especially on matters of race.”

 See Garrett Epps, “Clarence Thomas Takes On a Symbol of White Supremacy,” The Atlantic, June 18, 2015

See also Adam Clymer, “About That Flag on the Judge’s Desk,” New York Times, July 19, 1991

First Amendment Opinions by Justice Thomas

The following are the First Amendment majority opinions that Justice Thomas authored during his tenure on the Roberts Court re First Amendment free expression issues and related claims:
  1. Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015) (vote: 9-0)
  2. Reichle v. Howards (2012) (vote: 8-0)
  3. Washington State Grange Washington State Rep. Party (2008) (vote: 7-2)

Some of his more notable separate opinions during this same period include his opinions in:

  1. McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) (concurring in the judgment)
  2. Lane v. Franks (2014) (concurring)
  3. Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri (2011) (concurring in the judgment)
  4. Citizens United v. FEC (2010) (concurring & dissenting in part)
  5. Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States (2010) (concurring in part & concurring in the judgment)
  6. Morse v. Frederick (2007) (concurring)
Latest Commentaries on 2014-2015 First Amendment cases

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3

Reading the Tea Leaves

I want to make an observation about the remaining cases in this Supreme Court Term. From the February sitting, there are two undecided cases.  One is King v. Burwell.  The other is the Arizona redistricting case.  There are, though, three Justices who have not written a majority opinion from that sitting.  (The Chief Justice, Kennedy, and Ginsburg).  This strikes me as odd-somebody may have lost a majority along the way in one of those cases or in one that was already decided.

By contrast, from the January sitting there is only one undecided case (The Fair Housing Act/disparate impact case), and the only Justice without an opinion from that sitting is Justice Kennedy.  So he should have that one.

5

The Bill of Rights as a Justification for Power

A point that I’ve developed in my new draft and that I’ll be discussing further in the next book is that the Bill of Rights does more to expand the power of government that to limit power.

How can that be?  While the provisions in the Bill of Rights are about limiting government, the use of the “Bill of Rights” brand to describe those provisions is rather different.  In practice, people refer to the Bill of Rights to justify government action.  It’s OK to do something, the argument goes, because there is a bill of rights.

Consider some examples:

1.  When people want to justify the exercise of emergency powers or special national security powers, they say “The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact.”

2.  When the United States acquired colonies after the Spanish-American War, opponents of imperialism were mollified when Congress extended a “bill of rights” to the Philippines, even though that bill of rights was not the same as ours and was not observed all that much.

3.  When Franklin Roosevelt defended the New Deal, he often did so by observing that the government’s new initiatives did not violate the Bill of Rights.  Therefore, he said, those extensions of authority were perfectly fine.

In these example, the Bill of Rights is mainly a symbol.  Consider the following thought experiment.  Suppose a country were drafting a new constitution and I said that it would not include a bill of rights.  Would you be skeptical?  Probably.  Suppose, though, that this draft included all of the things you would want in a bill of rights but just called them something else or didn’t use that term.  What does the term add?