Category: Civil Rights

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FAN 168.1 (First Amendment News) Prof. Alan Morrison Weighs in on Facts Issue in Cake Case

Earlier today I posted an issue of First Amendment News entited Resolution of wedding cake case — is it all about fashioning the facts?

In resposne to that, Professor Alan Morrison wrote to me inquiring how the factual dispute in the case might play out in the future, and then he raised this question: “Will this end up being a case in which parties can determine outcomes in the future by tailoring their speech and response?” Intrigued by that question, I invited Alan to elaborate. His comments are set out below. For the benefit of the reader, I have reinserted my five scenarios since Alan referenced them.

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Ron Collins raises the interesting question of whether the facts in Masterpiece Cake case may play a very significant role in the outcome, based on which of (at least) his five scenarios  (dare I say “alternative facts”) the Court accepts. Presenting these alternative scenarios raises several thoughts that may be worth considering.

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Scenario # 1: Gay couple walks into Christian bakery and attempts to buy a generic wedding cake from refrigerator display. Owner refuses to sell to them on religious grounds (oppsition to same-sex marriages).

Scenario # 2: Gay couple walks into Christian bakery and orders a generic wedding cake. Owner refuses to sell to them on religious grounds (oppsition to same-sex marriages).

Scenario # 3:  Gay couple walks into Christian bakery and asks if they design cakes for same sex couples. Owner says no. Couple then attempts to buy generic wedding cake. Owner refuses to sell to them on religious grounds (oppsition to same-sex marriages).

Scenario # 4: Gay couple walks into Christian bakery and orders a generic wedding cake. They then ask to purchase  two grooms to place on the cake. Owner refuses to sell to them on religious grounds (oppsition to same-sex marriages).

Scenario # 5: Gay couple walks into Christian bakery and asks if they will create and design a wedding cake for them. Owner refuses to sell to them on religious grounds (oppsition to same-sex marriages).

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Prof. Alan Morrison (credit: GW Today_

It appears that the exchange between the buyers and the seller that gave rise to this case was very brief and was almost surely not carried out with the legal issue now before the Court in the minds of anyone.  From what I have read, the alternatives Ron discusses were not fleshed out in this exchange and so what each party now says it wanted may have no bearing on what, if anything, was going through their minds at the time.  To add to the uncertainty, the exchange was so brief, and perhaps infused with emotion on both sides, that any nuances now suggested were either not picked up or lost in the moment.

If the Court’s decision turns on which scenario it accepts as what actually happened, how much confidence should we have that the Court’s “facts” will be the “real” facts — whatever that means?  The only saving grace is that the remedy ordered does not include money damages and any injunction that is upheld is likely to be quite targetted, which brings me to my next thought.
Despite its emotional importance, this decision is likely to be of only modest significance, unless the Court takes an extreme position one way or the other. Suppose the Court says that artistic cake making is protected, but only if the baker is clear that this is a very limited exception. And assume further that cake makers — and perhaps florists and photographers — get the word and now know what they must say, and may not say, if they want to honor their consciences and avoid liability.  My hunch is that they will probably able to find a way to do that, and the cake buyers will still be able to get their cakes (and eat them too) in most situations.
Finally. I think (perhaps hope ) that this decision may have limited real world impact based on the fact that there are probably very few people in business who will turn away customers for reasons of conscience, not only because of the direct lost income, but because of what an adverse Internet posting may do for their business more generally.  And on the other side, will those few buyers who are turned down for reasons of conscience care enough to spend the time and money to establish a principle, or instead go to another shop that actually wants to serve them?

As a lawyer who has brought cases where the principle is as important as the benefits to the client, I applaud the buyers here for making the complaint and carrying it to the Supreme Court.  But my point is only that, once the Supreme Court speaks, there is not likely to be many follow-on cases, which is probably to the good for everyone.

Alan Morrison
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Stanley v. Illinois, Race and Gender

In yesterday’s post, I introduced the 45 year old case of Stanley v. Illinois, described what we know about the Stanley family, and introduced the idea that legal parenthood should be recognized only in parents who demonstrate a commitment of care for the child. Today, I turn to what why I think members of the Court may have believed the Stanley family was African-American and what that may have meant for the decision.

If I am right that the Court could have seen the Stanley case as involving both gender equality and racial equality, there needs to be some reason to believe that at least some members of the Court would have viewed the Stanley family as African-American. I think that reason exists.

When race is not mentioned in a society where European-Americans dominate the conversation, the observer usually assumes the parties to be white. That may or may not have been true when the justices looked at Peter Stanley, however.

Think about the confounding parts of the story. For one thing, the Stanleys had children together but they weren’t married. The Stanley children were born in the 1950s and the 1960s when non-marital childbearing was much more common among African-American families than among white families. For another thing, Joan Stanley was probably employed for wages outside the home for enough time to qualify her children for survivor benefits. At the time, relatively few white women worked outside the home, but many African American women did.

As it turns out, Peter and Joan Stanley were both European-American, a fact revealed by the 1940 Census and probably confirmed by Joan’s burial being handled by a white-owned funeral home. The Court had access to neither source of information. I think it justifiable to assume, therefore, that justices could have read the record to demonstrate that Joan Stanley is an African-American woman and Peter Stanley is an African-American man.

How could the conclusion that the Stanleys are African-American influence justices to view the case differently from a case about European-American families? I think there are at least two ways the justices might have framed the case differently. Each framing has positive and negative aspects when it comes to deciding whether to recognize legal parenthood in a parent like Peter Stanley.

First is the importance of the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution. Professor Peggy Cooper Davis has examined how the Court could have seen the Stanley case in the context of centuries-old struggles of African-Americans for legal recognition of their family ties.  Professor Davis traces Stanley back to the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution which were motivated, in part, by the arguments of slaves and of abolitionists about family ties. They argued that one of the worst abuses of slavery was the denial by slave-owners and the law to recognize the rights of slaves to marry and to have the legal rights of parenthood with respect to their children.

Claims about family ties were amplified during the Civil War, when innumerable slaves freed themselves. Many self-emancipated people took refuge in Federal military encampments, where they confronted camp commanders with demands for marriage ceremonies and other indicia of legal and inviolable rights to parenthood of their children. They believed that legal recognition of marriage and parenthood was one of the best ways to defeat the law and practice of slave states to empower masters to separate partners from one another and to sell children away from their parents.

That’s the positive side of the story. There’s also a negative side. Some of the camp commanders looked at the thousands of self-emancipated people in the camps and wondered how to keep them under control. Some concluded that the best way was to require cohabiting people to get married regardless of whether they wanted to. Commanders appear to have been acting out of the view, largely uncontested in the middle of the nineteenth century, that the family was a place of mini-government. That mini-government was not led by an equally-empowered pair of adults. Instead, it was led by the male head of household, the husband and father. Once a woman was married, she would be subject to the authority of her husband, and the camp commander would have fewer people to worry about.

You can see Stanley as reflecting both the positive and the negative sides of the story. Stanley gets recognition as a legal father and protection from unwarranted interference in that relationship, something that slaves never had. At the same time, men in Stanley’s position also get to exercise authority over those possibly-unruly women who bear their children, even in situations where only the mother is taking responsibility for caring for the children.

The second clue to framing possibilities is the Moynihan Report, which was published only a few years before the Stanley decision.  The positive side of the Moynihan Report is that President Lyndon Johnson commissioned it because he wanted to know how to improve the lives of African-Americans. When it was published, however, it shook many people with its claim that the prevalence of female-headed households in the African-American community precluded much of the progress toward civil rights that the Johnson administration wanted to see. The “matriarchy” of the black family was described as pathological. Many people seem to have interpreted the Moynihan report as advocating policies capable of enlarging the power of men in African-American families.

Given the apparent blessing of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a highly visible and respected public intellectual, it’s plausible that justices who wanted to advance racial equality could have thought it wise to expand the authority of fathers with respect to their children, especially when the father is African-American. At the same time, if the court understood the decision as reducing the independence of mothers with respect to their children, that result could be justified as an appropriate way to restrict some of the power of the black matriarchy. Remember that, prior to Stanley, an unmarried woman who gave birth to a child could place the child for adoption without consulting the child’s biological father. She was also the sole legal guardian of the child. In many states, a paternity finding could result in an order for child support without empowering the unmarried father to seek custody or visitation.  After Stanley, the single father could not be deprived of the rights previously exercised solely by single mothers.

If the Court had understood the Stanleys to be European-American, I wonder if it would have heard the case. After all, if Stanley were a lower-class white man, a ruling in his favor would not be viewed as advancing a racial justice agenda. Enhancing his authority as a father relative to the power of mothers has no obvious advantage in a group where marriage before childbearing is the dominant practice, because the married father already had at least equal power with the married mother in the law. All that ruling for Stanley would do, therefore, would be to enhance legal rights affecting non-marital childbearing in a group that generally avoided the practice at the time.

Any assumptions that justices may have made about seeing the Stanleys as an African-Americans were not revealed in the decision. If some justices believed, however, that a decision in favor of Stanley advanced both racial equality and gender equality, a little more explicit attention to intersecting issues would have been a good idea, particularly when it comes to issues of power. Instead, the Court ends up, I think, embedding into the law of parenthood claims about African-American families and the need for men to control the mothers of their children.

Stanley’s legacy has been that non-marital fathers have gained power and some of that gain has come at the expense of non-marital mothers. The change is positive in the many cases where both parents are actively-engaged and committed to their children. It is also positive when the father, like Stanley, demonstrates his commitment to care for the child and the mother is unavailable or uncommitted. But where the mother is committed and the father is not, the outcome gives him a chance for control over her for the sake of a child who gains no benefit.

The negative legacy of Stanley continues to support legal claims of uninvolved fathers because the Court elevated the individual rights of Peter Stanley over considerations of the relationship that Stanley had with the children. The Court might have had reason to do so if it could not otherwise advance an agenda of racial justice, but it’s hard to make that case without buying into Moynihan’s claims that black mothers are in need of male supervision. What the Court could have done instead was to explicitly recognize the intersection of race and gender and try to deal with both in fair ways. In my view, a relationship-based approach does that by respecting and valorizing the roles that men and women play in the lives of children when they commit to caring for those children.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the negative legacy of Stanley in the context of this year’s failed attempt in Maryland to restrict the paternal rights of men when the child is born as the result of the man raping the mother.

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Stanley v. Illinois and Rapist-“Fathers”

I am delighted to return to Concurring Opinions as a guest contributor.  Many thanks to Solangel for her kind invitation.

My posts this week are about the continuing influence of Stanley v. Illinois, 45 years after it was decided.  Stanley’s legacy is positive in terms of encouraging legal recognition of men as fathers to children for whom they provide care and commitment.  The legacy also includes, however, legal recognition of men as fathers in the absence of any involvement, much less care and commitment.  This part of the legacy contributes to the empowerment of men as parents at the expense, in some cases, of the empowerment of women as parents, an ironic result given the gender equality rhetoric of the decision.

One example of the negative legacy is the ongoing controversy about whether a man should enjoy legal fatherhood when his rape of the mother resulted in her pregnancy.  Later, I’ll address that controversy in the context of the recent failure of corrective legislation in Maryland.

In my view, the negative legacy of Stanley reflects unexamined and intersecting stereotypes not only about gender but also about race.  I argue that the Justices may have assumed, without evidence and without express acknowledgement, that the Stanley family was African-American.  If that speculation is correct, the court may have been pursuing what some justices saw as a racial justice agenda along with gender equality claims.  I will address in my next post where the agenda may have led the court.

First, some background.  In 1972, the Supreme Court decided that Illinois was required to recognize Peter Stanley as a parent, even though he was not married to the mother of his children when she died.  Because Stanley, as an unmarried father, was the surviving parent, the state declared the younger Stanley children parent-less and wanted to take them into care.  According to the Court, the failure of the parents to marry was not equivalent to the evidence of neglect or abuse that would be required if the state wanted to take into care the children of a mother or a married father.  The Court concluded that unmarried fathers were entitled to recognition as parents and the same level of process accorded to all mothers and to married fathers before the state could take their children.

In a concurring opinion that I wrote for Feminist Judgments a few years ago, I agree that Peter Stanley was entitled to parental recognition.  I argued that recognition should not arise solely from Stanley’s biological connection to the children, however.  Instead, Stanley’s entitlement should be based in the level of care and commitment he had demonstrated for his children.

My concurrence reflects two strands of feminist thought.  First, many feminists emphasize that caring relationships should count for more in the law.  Second, many feminists agree that law needs to take stories into account to provide context and support reality-based law-making.  In particular, courts do a better job deciding cases when they see people’s relationships to one another as meaningful, particularly relationships of support and care.  Understanding law in the context of people’s lives, their “stories,” is equally essential.  The Stanley Court did little of either.  Instead, the Court came to a broad, abstract conclusion that all people who claim parenthood through a blood relationship, marriage or adoption are the same, regardless of what any of those people have demonstrated in terms of connection with the child.

I am not arguing that a feminist Justice would have dissented; I agree with the outcome of the case.  The record, as I will discuss, demonstrates that Peter Stanley was involved with his children, shared a household with them, and was concerned for their future.  His marital status should not be cause for depriving him of parental status; only a finding of unfitness should justify that deprivation.

Where the Court and I part company is on the question of why.  The Court justifies its rule on the basis that the father has a right to be treated the same as a mother.  In my view, the parental rights of any person, whether father or mother, should turn on whether the person has a relationship with the child that demonstrates a level of commitment to the child’s care.  Where a person with a formal claim to parenthood, whether through birth, marriage or adoption, has never exercised any commitment to the child’s care, the state should be allowed to disregard that person’s claim to parenthood.

The Court’s focus on equality strikes me as not coincidental, but I’m not sure it was solely gender equality that the justices were thinking about.  In my view, at least some of the justices saw Stanley as part of the Court’s racial justice jurisprudence.  In light of this possibility, it also seems important that members of the Court probably thought Peter Stanley and his family were African-American, as I’ll discuss later.

The case is a good example of how claims about racial justice and claims about gender justice may lead to confounding results if not understood and examined contextually.  Empowering Peter Stanley to resist state intervention into his family because of his biological attachment to the children has been interpreted over the years since as empowering all unmarried fathers to be recognized as parents.  Once recognized as a parent, these men have the opportunity to restrict the autonomy of the mothers of their children in parenting decisions such as adoption and custody.  That outcome is inconsistent with preferring involved, committed and caring parents, whether male or female, over others whose connection to a child is solely formal or biological. Ironically, that outcome is hostile, in many cases, to respecting women’s equality.  The risks may be greatest for women of color.

My conclusion is that a relationship-based approach to Stanley’s claims would not have led to a different result for Peter Stanley.  Because a relationship-based approach adds context to the question of who should be recognized as a parent, further, it would help to counter the empowerment of the uninvolved parent that has been the negative legacy of Stanley.

To understand Stanley, it helps to know something about the story of the Stanley family.  The record, however, is scanty.  Here’s what we know from the record and additional research.  Peter and Joan had a long-term relationship and may have believed they were married, although no documentation was ever uncovered.  All accounts show them living together during the last few years before Joan’s death.  For the 17 or so years before that, they lived together continuously or intermittently, depending on whose account is accepted.  Their oldest child was found to be neglected at some point before her mother died.  The two younger children were born in the last few years before Joan’s death, and they were living with Joan and Peter when she died.  We also know that Social Security survivor benefits were paid for the three children, which seems to mean that Joan Stanley earned a salary for some period of time.  Money was tight, at least after Joan’s death.

Here’s some of what the Court’s record does not reveal:  whether Joan or Peter would identify themselves as African-American or European-American, what they did for a living, whether both provided economically to the family, what led to Joan’s early demise, whether Peter cared for her during her illness, and what the oldest child experienced before or after her mother’s death.

In my next post, I’ll discuss why I think members of the Court may have regarded the Stanleys as African-American and what that may have meant to them.

 

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Symposium on Carol Sanger’s “About Abortion”: Introduction & Commentaries

What follows is an online symposium concerning Professor Carol Sanger’s latest book, About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America (Harvard University Press 2017) (table of contents here). Links to the Introduction and Commentaries are set out below.

Related

Professor Carol Sanger

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Introduction to About Abortion Symposium

We are delighted to introduce Professor Carol Sanger and the participants in our online symposium on About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America (Harvard University Press 2017).

Professor Sanger, in her inimitable style, updates us on the state of the abortion debate in the age of Trump.  She explains how the experiences of women who have abortions have disappeared into the shadows while those who would outlaw it control the public discourse.  She explores the explosion of hostile legislation in state legislatures, as the new laws “treat abortion not as an acceptable medical decision—let alone a right—but as something disreputable, immoral, and chosen by mistake.”  Sanger’s book captures the reasons why the discourse has changed, and how abortion, which has always been a contentious issue, drives its emotional force from its connection to underlying debates about sex, religion, gender, politics, and identity.  She nonetheless seeks to reclaim women’s perspectives on the practice of abortion.   She argues that as women become more willing to talk about their experiences, “women’s decisions about whether or not to become mothers will be treated more like those of other adults making significant personal choices.”  In short, she seeks to normalize the topic of abortion.

The book covers original material that Sanger has assembled documenting the legal infrastructure for abortion decision-making.  She presents the experiences of vulnerable teens, forced to appear before hostile judges in an effort to secure permission to proceed without parental consent.  Courts deem many of the teens too immature to make such decisions on their own, but not apparently too immature to become mothers against their will.  She also describes the women required to undergo involuntary ultrasounds, the debate about whether the women are allowed to look away, and the insidiousness of this alleged effort to “help” women make the abortion decision.

Throughout, Sanger connects these practices to law, medicine, the organization of intimate relationships, the shape of a woman’s life, and national identity.  She takes pains to present  the objections to abortion accurately even as she also counters the depiction of decisions to end pregnancies as “selfish” or casual decisions to put women’s interests ahead of their children.  She distinguishes between abortion privacy, a form of nondisclosure based on a woman’s desire to control personal information, and abortion secrecy, a woman’s defense against the many harms of disclosure.   She captures women’s varied views, whether they treat abortion as unthinkable or as a measure necessary to allow them to become “good” mothers in circumstances of their choosing.

Indeed, Sanger’s original treatment of abortion includes a chapter on the views of men.  She asks not what decisions men would make about abortion; instead, she explores how they in fact decide whether to become fathers when they are faced with the choice of what to do with their frozen embryos.  The men in such circumstances express concern over the potential child’s future welfare, distress over an ongoing relationship with the other parent, an unwillingness to consider adoption as an acceptable alternative; in short, they express the same concerns that women do about whether to proceed with a pregnancy.  Yet, the right to life forces, while they often champion the rights of frozen embryos,  do not subject the men’s decisions  to the same intrusion and vilification they reserve for women.  Sanger speculates that if the same law that governs decisions about frozen embryos applied to women’s reproductive decisions, it “would not look quite the same as it does now, with assumptions of incompetence, layers of second-guessing, and invasive counseling.”

About Abortion adds to our understanding of the abortion debate.  It confronts the dishonesty and distortions that characterizes much of the public debate.  It acknowledges the way the issue is deeply intertwined with fundamental questions about the organization of society.  It advocates bringing the experiences of those who have chosen abortion out the shadows, and it succeeds in providing a richer foundation for public consideration of the issue.

About Abortion is an important book that has already received wide attention, including a New Yorker review that coincides with our consideration of it here.  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/why-its-become-so-hard-to-get-an-abortion.

For this Concurring Opinions book symposium, we have invited an all-star cast of thinkers who have a variety  of different perspectives on abortion:  Helen Alvare, Caitlin  Borgmann, Khiara Bridges, David Cohen, Leslie Griffin, Linda McClain, David Pozen, Lisa Pruitt, and Rachel Rebouche.

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The Clay Feet of Qualified Immunity Doctrine

I want to draw your attention to an important new paper by Will Baude on the flawed legal  foundations of qualified immunity doctrine. The paper lucidly explains that the Supreme Court’s explanations for why 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 should be interpreted to include a qualified immunity exception are unconvincing, and thus at a minimum the Court should stop enforcing the doctrine vigorously through summary reversals and compounding its error.

As a law clerk and then as a scholar teaching Torts and Constitutional Law, I have always found qualified immunity law puzzling. Why? Because Section 1983 says nothing about immunity and there is no compelling reason for thinking that Congress intended to create anything like qualified immunity following the Civil War.  (I looked into this when I was writing the Bingham biography, but I did not find anything revealing). The only way that I can make sense of the Court’s cases in this area is that Section 1983 is being treated as a common-law statute much like the Sherman Antitrust Act or the Lanham Act. By that I mean that the Justices believe Congress intended to give the courts broad latitude to develop the law of the statute. Professor Baude observes, though, that the Court has never given this justification for its qualified immunity rulings, perhaps because there is also no reason to think that Congress thought Section 1983 was that kind of statute.

The law in this area is so thick that it is hard to imagine the Court abolishing qualified immunity (though, of course, Congress can). Indeed, it is telling that none of the Justices dissent from the basic features of current doctrine. Professor Baude’s paper, though, might change that.

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Family Law After Obergefell

 

The Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges marked a sea change in family law.  While the immediate impact of the decision is clear – same-sex couples now have the right to marry in every state – the implications of the decision for family law and for practicing family lawyers are considerably broader.  Recognition of marriage equality has created new issues for courts deciding divorce and parenting cases, and for lawyers advising clients about issues related to family formation and family break-up. This post will highlight the family law implications of Obergefell  and explore some of the issues that are likely to arise in future cases involving the rights and obligations of same-sex couples.

Same-sex divorce, American style

According to the Williams Institute, close to 400,000 same-sex couples were already married at the time Obergefell was decided. A recent Gallup poll estimates that more than 120,000 additional same-sex couples have married since that time. But not all marriages endure.  About 40% of heterosexual marriages now end in divorce, and it is reasonable to anticipate that the divorce rate for same-sex couples will be roughly comparable.  Indeed, access to the financial and parenting remedies associated with divorce is one of the important benefits of marriage.   But same sex divorces are likely to raise some challenging legal issues.

Parenthood and the impact of the marital presumption

When an opposite sex couple divorces, legal parentage generally is not disputed. In part, this is due to the operation of the “marital presumption” — the legal rule that identifies the husband of a married woman as the legal father of any children born (or conceived) during the marriage.  At one time, the presumption was nearly irrebutable.  More recently, courts in a number of states have allowed divorcing parties to rebut the presumption based on genetic evidence of non-paternity.

Courts and legislatures have already begun to grapple with the application of the marital presumption to same-sex couples. Although the language of the presumption is usually gendered — specifying both a husband and a married woman — some courts have interpreted the statutory reference to husband to apply as well to a female spouse.  Other courts have declined to interpret their statutes broadly, but have invoked equal protection principles to extend the marital presumption to same-sex partners. See, e.g., Gartner v Iowa Department of Public Health, 830 N.W.2d 335 (Iowa 2013).  Still others have refused to apply the presumption to same-sex relationships, citing its biological underpinnings or opining that such a step is a matter for the legislature, not the judiciary.

Even if courts apply the marital presumption to same-sex couples, questions remain about its impact. In most states, the presumption is now rebuttable, and genetic evidence of non-paternity is often (albeit not always) sufficient grounds to rebut the presumption. But should genetic evidence be relevant to parentage in a same-sex marriage, where both spouses know from the outset that one parent will not be genetically related to the child.  And how, if at all, should the presumption apply to gay male marriages, in which neither spouse is a “married woman” and where the woman who gives birth is generally not an intended parent?  These questions, of course, raise the broader issue of whether parentage should be understood as a biological fact, or (primarily) as a legal and social construct.  And, if parentage is primarily a legal construct, what role (if any) should marriage play?

Moreover, as its name indicates, the marital presumption applies only to children born (or conceived) during a marriage. But many same-sex couples today are co-parenting children who were born to one spouse before their marriage, perhaps during a prior heterosexual union.  The marital presumption is of no use here, just as it provides no basis for step-parents to assert legal parentage in the absence of an adoption.  Other doctrines such as de facto parenthood, discussed in Professor Murphy’s last post, may be available to establish parental rights, but establishing parenthood under those doctrines in fact-specific and uncertain, and the doctrine has been criticized as insufficiently protective of the autonomy of biological parents.

Moreover, while many states now recognize some form of de facto parenthood, others do not, and, in the absence of a judicial decree, states are not required to respect each other’s parentage rules.  Thus, a same-sex partner who is recognized as a legal parent in one state may not be recognized in another.  For this reason, many family lawyers continue to advise same-sex spouses to secure parental rights through adoption, even where a couple is married at the time their child is born.  But adoption can be both expensive and intrusive, and many same-sex couples understandably assume that their marriage renders adoption unnecessary, only to find upon dissolution that the law is far less settled than they imagined.  Judicial declarations of parentage, obtained at the time a child is born, could provide an alternative means of interstate recognition, but existing state procedures are not designed for same-sex couples, whether married or not.

Divorce-related financial remedies

The dissolution of same-sex marriages presents other challenges as well. Current standards for both property distribution and post-divorce spousal support depend significantly on the length of the marriage in question; the longer the financial interdependence associated with marriage, the more robust the post-divorce sharing rules.  But many of today’s same-sex marriages were preceded by lengthy periods of non-marital cohabitation, particularly in states that refused to allow same-sex marriage prior to Obergefell.  If such a couple divorces after a relatively short marriage, can a court base a property or a support award on the lengthy period of pre-marital cohabitation?   Many courts have refused to do so in cases involving opposite-sex couples who cohabited prior to marriage, noting that the applicable statutory language refers specifically to the length of the marriage, not to the length of the relationship.  Should these decisions apply to same-sex couples?  Other courts have relied on their on their equitable powers to consider non-marital cohabitation as a factor in fixing the financial consequences of divorce.  Some commentators have suggested using common law marriage as a solution to this problem.  But common law marriage has traditionally required that individuals have the legal capacity to marry each other at the time the relevant conduct took place and that the parties held themselves out as married in one of the handful of states that allow couples to contract a common law marriage.  Both of these requirements are likely to post problems for most same-sex couples.

And how should Obergefell affect the treatment of cohabitation relationships that break up without a marriage?  Prior to Obergefell, a number of states had begun to apply principles of equity or implied contract to redistribute assets accumulated in one partner’s name at the end of a long-term cohabitation relationship.  Many of these cases involved same-sex couples, and the couple’s inability to marry may well have influenced the court’s decision.  The American Law Institute’s Principles of Family Dissolution took these developments a step further by extending status-based property and support remedies to unmarried partners who “for a significant period of time share a primary residence and a life together as a couple.”  How should Obergefell’s recognition of marriage equality affect the viability of these doctrines?  Does the availability of same-sex marriage weaken claims based on non-marital cohabitation on the theory that a couple’s decision not to marry is an indication that they (or at least one of them) prefer not to be bound by marital sharing principles? Is this a preference that the law should respect, even if, in hindsight, it turns out to be a bad deal for one of the parties?  Or should courts continue to apply functional, as well as formal criteria, to determine the appropriateness of post-relationship financial sharing?

Wither Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships

More generally, how should the availability of same-sex marriage affect other legal statuses, such as domestic partnerships and civil unions? Should states that previously recognized such unions automatically convert them to marriages unless a couple explicitly “opts out?”  Or should states require that domestic partners affirmatively “opt in” to marriage?  What should be the legal default?  Will private companies that previously provided benefits to same-sex domestic partners now restrict such benefits to married couples?  And, if so, has the “right” to marry celebrated in Obergefell become an obligation to do so – a possibility that Professor Kathrine Franke cautioned against in her 2015 book, Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality.

More broadly, should states retain these alternative legal statuses as a form of “marriage lite” or have they outlived their utility now that both same-sex and opposite-sex couples have access to marriage? And if states choose to retain these alternatives, do constitutional equality principles require that they be made available to opposite-sex as well as same-sex couples? To non-romantic partners such as siblings or other relatives?  Now that marriage is available to same-sex as well as opposite sex, couples, how much should it matter?

Beyond Marriage and Divorce

Marriage equality is also likely to affect legal developments in contexts beyond divorce and parenting disputes. In her recent article, Inheritance Law and the Marital Presumption After Obergefell, my colleague, Paula Monopoli, examines the impact of Obergefell on inheritance law; she argues that important policy goals support extending a conclusive marital presumption to all nonbirth/nongenetic spouses for purposes of inheritance law, and suggests that the presumption be unmoored from its biological roots and re-conceptualized as resting on the presumed consent of the nonbirth/nongenetic spouse to be the parent of any child born during a marriage.  In a broader frame, Douglas NeJaime, argues in his recent Harvard Law Review article, Marriage Equality and the New Parenthood, that marriage equality was both enabled by – and, in turn, enables — significant shifts in the law’s understanding of parenthood and in its ongoing construction of families.  Without a doubt, this is a construction project that should capture the imagination and engage the efforts of both legal scholars and practicing family lawyers for many years to come.

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Legal Recognition of De Facto Parents: Victory for Same-Sex Parents or Threat to Parental Autonomy

The LGBT community is celebrating two recent decisions from the highest courts in Maryland and New York recognizing non-biological “de facto parents” as legal parents. Slate and other media outlets have described these decisions as “overwhelming” victories for gay parents. Commentators also see these cases as part of the “ripple effect” of recognizing of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges. After years of advocating for same-sex couples on a range of issues before both legislatures and courts, I am surprised at my reluctance to join the celebration. In questioning the wisdom of this trend, I tentatively and uncomfortably align myself with pro-marriage scholars and commentators who have long critiqued the recognition of de facto parenthood. I’m not pushing marriage but I think this new trend is unnecessary to protect same-sex families or other de facto parents and their children. I also worry that authorizing this kind of state intervention to overrule decisions of legal parents may have unintended consequences that should concern us all.

Maryland and New York join what is now a majority of states granting some or all parental rights to an adult who has acted in a parental role for some period of time but has not established legal parenthood through biology, adoption or marriage. Most states have also required that the relationship between the “de facto parent” and the child must be with the consent and encouragement of at least one legal parent. Both the New York and Maryland cases involved same-sex couples who had agreed to have a child together. The couples were unmarried at the time of the birth of their children, and the non-biological parents had not adopted the children. The relationship ends after some time in which both partners co-parented. After the break-up, the biological parents withheld access to the children and the conflicts ended up in court. Both the New York and Maryland courts reversed pre-Obergefell decisions and recognized “de facto parents.” Once recognized, de facto parents stand on equal footing with biological or adoptive parents in custody and visitation disputes.

Part of my skepticism about these decisions comes from questions about the continuing necessity of de facto parentage after Obergefell. Didn’t the Supreme Court’s establishment of marriage equality remove a major barrier to legal parenthood for same-sex couples, thereby making recognition of de facto parenthood less important? Indeed, one of the central arguments advanced by advocates and adopted by the Supreme Court was that allowing same-sex parents to establish families through marriage is essential to protect children. Justice Kennedy embraced these arguments in his majority opinion, finding that “Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, [the children of same-sex parents] suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate children of same sex couples.”

I’m not joining the “marriage supremacy” folks; I’m just noting that decisions that establish the legal recognition of parentage without marriage (or biology or adoption) don’t seem to naturally flow from a decision that opens access to marriage to same-sex couples, in part, so that both parents can secure legal ties to their child. After Obergefell, same-sex couples should now have the benefit of marital presumptions and achieve legal parenthood by agreeing to conceive and raise a child together in the context of marriage. And, for those parents who choose not to marry, Windsor and Obergefell’s constitutional analysis should undermine any remaining state law barriers to applying existing parentage statutes to same sex couples or permitting second parent adoptions by non-biological parents. And if there are continuing barriers to applying the marital presumption or other parentage statutes to same-sex couples or to second parent adoptions by gay and lesbian partners, advocates should fight those battles rather than spreading the de facto parent doctrine.

So Obergefell made the fight for de facto parenthood less critical in securing the rights of LGBT parents. But what’s the harm of expanding the legal recognition of parentage? I worry about its impact on both parents and children, particularly poor parents who are already vulnerable to state overreaching. I am concerned about the erosion of parental autonomy when courts, upon a finding of de facto parenthood, can set the decisions of legal parents aside. Of course, some of the court opinions are drawn very narrowly. I’m comfortable with the court protecting the non-bio parent in the New York case by overruling the decision of the biological mother to exclude her former partner from their child’s life. Both parents had planned to conceive the child, raised the child together for two years and continued to co-parent after they broke up for another three years. New York, in fact, limits a finding of de facto parenthood to just these circumstances. A party seeking parental rights is only a de facto parent “where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together.”

 

But other states have adopted broader definitions. For example, Maryland now recognizes de facto parenthood as long as the biological or adoptive parent consented to a parent-like relationship and the non-biological parent formed a bond with the child. In Kentucky, a “de facto custodian” of a child can seek custody if he or she is “the primary caregiver, has provided financial support and has resided with the child for at least six months, and the child is under three years of age.” The residency requirement goes up to one year if the child is over three. In Colorado, a third-party can stand on equal footing with a parent in the “allocation of parental responsibilities” when the third-party “has had the physical care of a child” for at least six months and petitions the court within six months after the care has ended.

This expansion of the legal definition of parenthood makes me think about how some of the low income mothers I have represented might have fared under these statutes. The mothers who, after traffic stops unearthed warrants related to old drug possession charges, left their children in the care of a grandparent or a friendly neighbor while serving their sentences. After they were released from jail six months later, they faced custody battles from the third parties who had taken care of their children. Before recognition of de facto parenthood, my clients were presumed to have the right to decide whom their children should visit or live with, absent unfitness or other extraordinary circumstances. After recognition of de facto parentage, the grandparent or neighbor would be on equal legal footing with the mother under a best interests analysis. I also fear for the non-custodial fathers who might now be squeezed out of their kids’ lives after their children’s mothers’ ex- spouses are recognized as de facto parents without the fathers’ consent or participation.

Finally, as someone who generally favors rules over discretion in most areas of family law, I worry about the uncertainty that will result from the broader, vague definitions of de facto parent. Will it make already contentious child access disputes even more protracted and expensive? Or, worse yet, will the better-financed de facto parent always prevail over poorer, unrepresented legal parents? There is also great uncertainty about the legal rights and obligations that flow from this kind of parentage. In most jurisdictions, de facto parents can seek custody and/or visitation under a best interests standard on equal footing with the legal parent. But what if this designation creates three or four legal parents? Are they all on the same legal footing? And what about the implications of this for financial obligations to the child? Does the de facto parent also have to pay child support? If there is a third, legal parent, are his or her child support obligations reduced when a de facto parent enters the picture? Vague standards result in unpredictability and that leads to more disputes involving children.

Of course, for the petitioners in many of these cases, marriage or even second parent adoptions weren’t options at the time of the conception or birth of their children. And access to lawyers for adoption or any family law conflict is always a challenge. But courts can now send a clear message to loving, de facto parents who want to be assured of continuing their relationships with their children. To fully protect yourself and your child, you need to affirmatively establish yourself as a legal parent—marry your co-parent, petition under parentage statutes and/or adopt your child. I may be missing a lot here but that seems like reasonable family policy.

 

 

 

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Looking Back: Lenny Bruce’s Obscenity Prosecutors & First Amendment Defense Lawyers

Ephraim London

Ephraim London (NY defense lawyer) (credit: Getty Images)

Al Bendich (SF lawyer) (credit: NYT)

Harry Kalven, Jr. (IL appellate counsel)

Harry Kalven, Jr. (Illinois appellate counsel)

Al Bendich (SF defense counsel) (credit: NYT)

The Lenny Bruce story — the one about his obscenity trials (circa 1961-64 in SF, LA, Chicago & NY) — is a remarkable story in the history of the First Amendment as well as in the culture of comedy. You’ll not find the story on the pages of the the United States Supreme Court, though Bruce forever changed the law when it came to uninhibited comedy. You will, however, find traces of that story in the 3,500 pages of trial transcripts titled People v. Bruce (sometime this fall those transcripts will be available in their entirety on FIRE’s online First Amendment Library). There in black-and-white you will find a story about laws invoked in factual situations where it was unclear that any prosecution was warranted.  It is also the story of using the law in ways that at the time were constitutionally suspect. And then there is the human story, the tragic one that first destroyed a man’s career and then destroyed him.

The backdrop of this story is the lawyers who prosecuted and defended the uninhibited comedian. It is said that the dead live on the lips of the living. Mindful of that admonition, below I have listed the names of those lawyers (adapted from my book with David Skover: The Trials of Lenny Bruce). In our judge-centric world, we tend to overlook the lawyers, the ones who are the first to plow the earth of the law. So note their names and roles in People v. Bruce.

The names listed below are those involved in Lenny Bruce’s obscenity trials (as distinguished from, say, his drug arrests and trials).

My experience with Lenny Bruce . . . was the first time I saw in action the government’s use of the might and power of the criminal justice system to crush dissent. William M. Kunstler 

Prosecutors (12)

San Francisco:

  1. Arthur Schaefer (1st Jazz Work Shop obscenity trial)
  2. Albert C. Wallenberg (2nd Jazz Work Shop obscenity trial)

Los Angeles

  1. Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. (pretrial hearing on motion to dismiss Trolly Ho obscenity case)
  2. Ronald Ross  (consolidated Troubadour & Unicorn obscenity trial)

Chicago

  1. Samuel V. Banks (Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  2. Edward J. Egan (Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  3. Willie Whiting (Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  4. William J. Martin (appeal of conviction in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  5. James R. Thompson (appeal of conviction in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
Richard Kuh (NY prosecutor) (credit: Getty Images)

Richard Kuh (NY prosecutor) (credit: Getty Images)

New York

  1. Gerald Harris (grand jury & pretrial matters in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  2. Richard H. Kuh (Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  3. Vincent J. Cuccia (procedures for appeal of Cafe Au Go Go conviction)

Prosecutors re Appeal of Companion Case (People v. Solomon)

  1. H. Richard Uviller (post judgment motions before New York Supreme Court, Appellate Term)
  2. Harold R. Shapiro (appeal of Cafe Au Go Go conviction before New York Supreme Court, Appellate Term)

First Amendment Defense Lawyers (23)

San Francisco:

  1. Seymour Fried (1st Jazz Work Shop obscenity trial)
  2. Albert M. Bendich (2nd Jazz Work Shop obscenity trial)

Los Angeles

  1. Melvin Belli  (represented by his associate, Charles Ashman, in Troubadour obscenity case)
  2. Seymour Lazar (pretrial matters in Trolly Ho obscenity case)
  3. Sydney M. Irmas (Trolly Ho obscenity case)
  4. Burton M. Marks (consolidated Troubadour & Unicorn obscenity trial)
  5. John Marshall (Illinois extradition order in Gate of Horn obscenity case)

Chicago

Maurice Rosenfield (IL appellate counsel w Kalven)

Maurice Rosenfield (IL appellate counsel w Kalven)

  1. George J. Cotsirilos (pretrial matters in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  2. Donald Page Moore (pretrial matters in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  3. Samuel Friedfeld (Gate of Horn attorney originally retained to represent Bruce & club owner Alan Robback in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  4. Earl Warren Zaidans (Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  5. George C. Pontiffs (sentencing hearing in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  6. Harry Kalven, Jr. (appeal of conviction  in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  7. William R. Ming, Jr. (appeal of conviction  in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
  8. Maurice Rosenfield (appeal of conviction  in Gate of Horn obscenity trial)
Martin Garbus (one of NY defense counsel)

Martin Garbus (one of NY defense counsel w London)

New York

  1. Howard Squadron (bail & bond for arrest in pretrial matters in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  2. Lawrence H. Rogovin (appears for Howard Squadron in pretrial matters in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  3. Ephraim London (lead counsel in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  4. Martin Garbus (co-counsel in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  5. Harry Herschman (sentencing hearing  in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  6. Allen G. Schwartz (certificate of reasonable doubt for appeal in  in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity case)
  7. Edward de Grazia (§1983 civil rights law suit)
  8. William M. Kunstler (advisory capacity in §1983 civil rights law suit)

* * * *

Attorneys on Appeal for Bruce’s Co-defendant, Howard L. Solomon (People v. Solomon)

  1. Bentley Kassal (bail and bond for arrest and pretrial matters in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  2. Herbert Monte-Levy (pretrial matters in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  3. Allen G. Schwartz (Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  4. William S. Miller (sentencing hearing in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  5. William S. Miller (sentencing hearing in Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial)
  6. William E. Hellerstein (appeal of Cafe Au Go Go conviction)
  7. Milton Adler (appeal of Cafe Au Go Go conviction)

FullSizeRender (1)

Posthumous Pardon Petition  re People v. Bruce (1964)

  1. Robert Corn-Revere (counsel for Petitioners Ronald Collins & David Skover)
Robert Corn-Revere (posthumous pardon)

Robert Corn-Revere (posthumous pardon)

* * * *  

 No to be overlooked are the nine club owners who were either persecuted or prosecuted in connection with Lenny Bruce’s performances in their clubs. See The Trials of Lenny Bruce, p. 456 (2002).

There is also the story of the judges who presided over Lenny Bruce’s obscenity trials. That is, however, another post for another day.  Besides, there were so many of them. See The Trials of Lenny Bruce, pp. 454-456 (2002).

→ And finally, there is the story of a relentless journalist who played a key role in the Lenny Bruce First Amendment story.  His name: Nat Hentoff.