Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit academic think tank at the University of Pennsylvania dedicated to interdisciplinary, evidence-based research to prevent child abuse and neglect. Before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Hamilton was the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Hamilton is the leading expert on child sex abuse statutes of limitations and has submitted testimony and advised legislators in every state where significant reform has occurred. She is the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge University Press), which advocates for the elimination of child sex abuse statutes of limitations. She has filed countless pro bono amicus briefs for the protection of children at the United States Supreme Court and the state supreme courts. Her textbook, Children and the Law, co-authored with Martin Gardner, will be published Fall 2017 by Carolina Academic Press, formerly Lexis/Nexis.

Hamilton has been a vocal and influential critic of extreme religious liberty, advocating for the vulnerable about overreaching. Hamilton successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) at the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores (1997), and defeated the RFRA claim brought by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against hundreds of child sex abuse survivors in Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Listecki (7th Cir. 2015). She has represented numerous cities dealing with church-state issues as well as claims brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA). The author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty (Cambridge University Press), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, she is also a columnist for Verdict on

Hamilton has been honored with the 2018 Pennsylvania State University Department of Philosophy Distinguished Alumni Award, the 2017 University of Pennsylvania Law School Louis H. Pollak Public Service Award, the 2016 Voice Today, Voice of Gratitude Award; the 2015 Religious Liberty Award, American Humanist Association; the 2014 Freethought Heroine Award; the National Crime Victim Bar Association’s Frank Carrington Champion of Civil Justice Award, 2012; the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for outstanding public advocacy and scholarship, 2008; and selected as a Pennsylvania Woman of the Year Award, 2012, among others. She is also frequently quoted in the national media on child abuse and neglect, statute of limitations, constitutional, RFRA, RLUIPA, and First Amendment issues.

Hamilton clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Edward R. Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Professor Hamilton is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, B.A., summa cum laude; Pennsylvania State University, M.A. (English, fiction writing, High Honors); M.A. (Philosophy); and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, J.D., magna cum laude, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

Columns by Marci A. Hamilton
Sullivan & Cromwell and Yeshiva University Issue a Disappointing Report on Child Sex Abuse That Is Short on Facts and Long on Public Relations

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the investigation that occurred after many months, and many media stories about child sex abuse at the Yeshiva University High School (YUHS) in The Jewish Daily Forward. In the end, Yeshiva University released an “independent investigation” led by Karen Patton Seymour of Sullivan & Cromwell. Hamilton takes strong issue with the report that resulted from the investigation, and explains in detail her sharp criticisms of it, and what she contends that it should have contained, but did not. She also argues that, in this situation, pending litigation is a poor excuse for nondisclosure, especially in light of the statute-of-limitations situation in New York.

The Book of Matt and What It Can Tell Us About the Zimmerman/Martin Case

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a new book on the infamous Matthew Shepard murder, The Book of Matt, which she urges everyone to read, and which reveals that, as it turns out, there was much more to the Shepard case than was known at the time. Hamilton also considers the possibility that, as with the Shepard case, in which important facts weren't unearthed until now, years later, we may also be reassessing the Zimmerman/Martin case years later, when a future journalist may find new and important facts, as occurred in the Shepard case now.

The California Catholic Bishops Fight Access to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the California Catholic Bishops’ decision to fight against, rather than for, justice for child sex-abuse victims. In particular, Hamilton notes that the Bishops’ primary target is the statute-of-limitations (SOL) window, which would open a one-year period during which those victims of clergy and other child sex abuse whose statutes of limitations had expired (which is the vast majority of victims) could still file lawsuits against their abusers, and those who covered up the abuse. Hamilton also faults, as indefensible, the Bishops’ attempt to triangulate the relationship between victims and parishioners, so that the victims are purportedly the enemies of the parishioners.

The Facts, the Verdict, and the Role of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS) in the Zimmerman Trial: A Model of Opacity

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the role of the CRS—a little-known division of the Department of Justice—in the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Hamilton starts with the facts that we do know and the many that we don't, and the perspective each side presented at trial. In addition, Hamilton questions the unclear role, here, of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS). Hamilton notes the role the CRS usually plays, and the evidence that has—and has not—been made public regarding the role it played here.

Why the En Banc Tenth Circuit’s Interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius Is Indefensible

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton takes strong issue with the contention that a for-profit company is a religious “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Third and Tenth Circuits have differed on the issue, and Hamilton argues that the Third Circuit is plainly right, and the Tenth Circuit plainly wrong. She also contends that the federal government should take an anti-RFRA position, just as it took an anti-DOMA position.

How to Read United States v. Windsor to Understand What Gay Couples Won This Week, But Why They Still Have a Long Way to Go

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a little-remarked but important aspect of the recent Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor: the limits of the decision. For instance, she notes that gay people were not granted a constitutional right to be married in any state by the decision. Moreover, Hamilton points out that, despite the decision, there are only 14 jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, where gay people will be able to marry, and where they also will be able to receive the identical federal benefits received by heterosexual couples. And, in the 37 states left to persuade, federal benefits for married couples can be limited to heterosexual couples. Thus, Hamilton notes that we are far from true equality for gay Americans.

The Inevitable Holding in Shelby v. Holder, and Its Fallout

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case that the Court just resolved. Section 4(a) of the Act establishes a formula to be applied to identify jurisdictions that must obtain preclearance before they change their voting practices. Hamilton considers the majority and the dissent, and contends that coverage of the decision features a drastic overstatement of both the Court’s decision and its likely fallout.

The Supreme Court Renders Another Decision Interpreting the Ex Post Facto Clause That Makes It More Difficult to Incarcerate Sex Offenders: What the Ruling Means for Child Safety

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s recent Peugh decision. She contends that the ruling, although it does not deal with sex offenders, will have an impact that will surely be felt in sex-offender cases. In particular, Hamilton argues that the case's interpretation of the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause will make it more difficult to incarcerate criminals, and sex offenders in particular. As a result, Hamilton notes, the Court’s decision, and another it issued a decade ago, may put children in very serious peril.

The Supreme Court Takes the Case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, Which Raises the Questions Whether—And If So, How—a Town Board May Open Its Meetings With Prayer

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses a church/state case that the Supreme Court has recently taken up, which concerns the question whether a town board may constitutionally open its meetings with prayer. Hamilton predicts that this case will be a landmark Establishment Clause battle, and a key development in America’s ongoing culture war over control of government programs and spaces, and of American culture itself. In addition to analyzing prior Establishment Clause precedents that are relevant here, Hamilton suggests where each of the Justices is likely to fall on the possible spectrum of views, and votes, regarding the Town of Greece case.

Abuse in the Sports World, and What Needs to Be Done About It

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses abuse in the world of sports, including school, amateur and professional sports. While child sex abuse has been a problem in this world, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse are far too common, and need to stop as well, Hamilton urges. She cites the example of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, but stresses that Rice is far from alone in his abusive behavior. And, Hamilton notes, it is a problem that athletes looking for—or wanting to continue with—college scholarships feel that they have no other choice but to take the abuse. Hamilton asks us all to imagine sports as it should be: free of bullying and fear, and offers a model code of conduct for sports addressing the various forms of abuse that athletes may suffer, as well as reporting requirements when abuse does occur.

Who Is Afraid of Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims, and Who Is Fighting for It? Some Recent Developments

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on developments in States across the nation regarding abolishing the statute of limitations on child sex abuse. Hamilton chronicles the details of the progress in each of the relevant states, and notes the rising calls for justice not only for victims, but also for those who knew of a victim’s abuse and did nothing about it or, even worse, covered it up.

A Movie Deal and Two New Books Guarantee that the World Will Finally Understand the Catholic Church Child Sex Abuse Scandal

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the new books—one nonfiction, and the other a novel—and the movie deal that will better illuminate the Catholic Church's scandal over clergy child sex abuse. Hamilton expresses the hope that these works will cause a stronger push for strict laws in this area. Hamilton focuses on some key parts of the scandal, such as the early dearth of media coverage and the brave crusaders who dared to side with the victims and boldly challenge the Church. She also assesses each of the two books, finding both praiseworthy.

The Plague of Proposed Legislation by Religious Entities in the States: An Explosion in Foolhardy State Religious Liberty Proposals and a Sneaky Addition to the Pennsylvania Task Force’s Legislative Proposals

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on two recent developments: (1) a new kind of state-level religious freedom restoration act (RFRA) that omits the requirement of a substantial burden upon the plaintiff's religious conduct; a mere burden is enough under this new kind of RFRA; (2) the deeply disappointing nature of the Pennsylvania Task Force Legislative Package to protect children, which omitted child-sex-abuse statute of limitations reform, and failed to protect children from medical neglect by faith-healing parents.

A New Pope, A New Beginning for Clergy Child Sex Abuse Survivors? Why It’s Unlikely

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton predicts that the new Pope, formerly the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, will be no more successful than his predecessor in effectively addressing the Catholic Church’s problem with clergy child sex abuse. In making her case, Hamilton cites the name the new Pope chose, Francis for St. Francis Xavier, not St. Francis of Assisi; and the fact that he is a Jesuit—and thus a member of an order that despite the respect it claims still has clergy child abuse problems and problems with related cover-ups. Hamilton also points out that Pope Francis—unlike Cardinal Oullet of Canada, another top contender—has not been an outspoken critic of clergy child abuse. For these and other reasons, Hamilton predicts that true reform in this area will only come from the legal system, not the Church.

Coaches’ Codes of Conduct: What Universities, Schools, Teams, and Leagues Must Do in the Wake of the Penn State, Olympic Swimming, and Poly Prep Country Day School Child Abuse Scandals

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses what the institutions and people who oversee youth and school sports must do in order to avoid child sex abuse, and other types of abuse that can be related to sports, such as verbal abuse. Hamilton begins by noting that we need to clearly define what is abuse, whether sexual, verbal, or otherwise. In addition, she argues that youth athletic organizations need to institute hotlines for reporting abuse, and also to ensure backup support for young athletes if a hotline alone is not enough, as it may not be in some circumstances. In addition, Hamilton discusses the institution of penalties for adults who know of abuse and do nothing, and notes how sports culture can be changed for the better with the help of The Positive Coaching Alliance.

Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief for Houses of Worship: Why the Establishment Clause Forbids this Most Recent Attempt by Religious Lobbyists to Obtain Government Support and Funding

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton argues that Hurricane Sandy disaster relief cannot constitutionally be extended to religious institutions, and notes that such relief was not extended to houses of worship in prior, similar situations. She also contends that religious institutions should go back to their days of eschewing government funding entirely. Accordingly, Hamilton opposes the Federal Disaster Assistance Non-Profit Fairness Act, and notes that the church/state entanglement issues that will arise if the government is involved in funding the rebuilding of a damaged house of worship.

The American Bishops, Contraception, and Gender Discrimination

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on last week's issuance by, the Obama Administration, of revised HHS regulations that accommodate religious organizations that object to providing contraception and abortion services as part of their requirement to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Hamilton explains the exemption, its four criteria, and how the rules work. She also notes that the religious exemption does not apply to for-profit entities, and likely will be held not to apply to nonprofit entities, either. The reason the exemption likely does not apply, Hamilton explains, is that employers are completely out of the loop, with the health insurance issue (including issues regarding contraception and abortion) now solely an issue, under the regulations, between a woman and her doctor.

The Release of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Records Relating to Clergy Child Sex Abuse: The Insights It Reveals, and Why the Justice System Deserves Great Credit Here

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a recent development relating to the fight for justice for victims of child sex abuse: the release of the records of the Catholic Church's Los Angeles Archdiocese in one case, with many such more records to come, pursuant to a 2007 settlement. Hamilton argues that, in addition to the brave survivors who have come forward to report abuse, and the journalists who exposed the truth, our justice system deserves credit for bringing the perpetrators to justice. Hamilton also notes the key role of statute-of-limitations window legislation in ensuring that the victims' cases could be tried despite the expiration of the original statutes of limitations.

Football, Sexual Assault, and the Web: The End of the Institutional Cover-ups of Sexual Abuse and Assault

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the confluence of forces that have made the victories in the fight against child sex abuse possible. Among the key factors, Hamilton argues, are the end of the old boys’ network; survivors who are empowered by the justice system; and revelations that go public far more quickly than they could have prior to the Age of the Internet, when victims and critics of abusers have a strong, far-reaching voice and the ability to recruit allies and supporters. With all these developments, together, sparking public outrage, Hamilton notes that even previously untouchable football institutions can be made accountable—noting, for instance, the crimes toward a young woman in Steubenville, Ohio, by members of that town’s team.