Everything I Need to Know About Family Law I Learned from Teen Mom: Part Two in a Two-Part Series

In this two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman draws on an unusual source, the reality television show Teen Mom, to illuminate a number of family law issues. Here, in Part Two, Grossman covers issues that have arisen on Teen Mom relating to legal fatherhood, parental rights, child custody, domestic violence, and open adoption. Using the situations of the young women on Teen Mom as examples, Grossman answers interesting family law questions like these: Does legal fatherhood matter? How are disagreements over custody and visitation resolved, and what kind of disagreements are likely to arise? How and why might custody over a child be relinquished? Do grandparents have visitation rights, and in what circumstances? How does open adoption work, and what problems might occur with open adoption? Finally, what happens when there is family violence? By illustrating instances where these questions arise, Grossman notes, Teen Mom ends up being surprisingly educational for a reality television series.

Everything I Need to Know About Family Law I Learned From Teen Mom: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In this two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman draws on an unusual source, the reality television show Teen Mom, to illuminate a number of family law issues. Here, in Part One, Grossman begins by contrasting the precursor show, 16 and Pregnant, which raised few legal issues, with Teen Mom, which raises a plethora of them. She explains why teen pregnancy raises few legal issues, whereas the birth of a child to a teenage mother often, as Teen Mom illustrates, triggers legal conflicts. Specifically, Grossman covers abortion rights for minors and the very limited rights of putative unwed fathers, prior to birth. She also quickly previews the nature of the many post-childbirth legal disputes that she will discuss in Part Two of the series.

Human Rights Scholars and Human Rights Professionals: Time to Talk?

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner describes a schism between human rights scholars, on one hand, and human rights professionals, on the other. On the good side, Mariner notes, both scholarship and practice in human rights have thrived over the last two decades—and yet, she contends, there is a troubling disconnect between the two. Mariner’s own survey found that human rights professionals see a wide—even, to some, “enormous”—gap between theory and practice, and rarely read academic articles on human rights. The professionals complained, among other points, that the academics were encouraged to come up with counterintuitive theories, when often the intuitive ones were far closer to the mark. In turn, Mariner notes, the academics might rightly charge that the professionals fear that too much analysis of a problem will impede or delay effective action, as in “Hamlet,” when in fact sustained thought about a human rights issue could bear significant fruit. She thus calls on the two groups to engage more deeply with each other’s work, to the benefit of both. Finally, Mariner offers some specific suggestions as to how such engagement could effectively occur.

Whatever Happened to Making an Honest Buck? Wall Street Attacks Elizabeth Warren Because She Believes in Capitalism More Than They Do

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan discusses the issues raised by the candidacy of Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat. Buchanan’s thesis is that Warren is more truly a capitalist than her opponent, Republican Scott Brown, or the voters and commentators who oppose her. In particular, Buchanan notes that Warren—an advocate of transparency in financial transactions; an architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and an advisor to President Obama on financial industry issues—is a true advocate of free markets. The reason her opponents claim otherwise, Buchanan argues, is that they are confusing being pro-free market with being blindly pro-business, no matter what evils business interests may perpetrate. Being truly in favor of the free market, he contends, means that one ought to endorse—as Warren does—the principle that both sides need to be well-informed when they transact business. That kind of free-market thinking, he points out, might have stemmed or prevented the mortgage loan crisis.

An Endless War on Terror

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on the aggressive new War on Terror bills currently pending in Congress. With Osama Bin Laden dead and all the living alleged 9/11 perpetrators in custody awaiting trial, Mariner notes that the bills’ timing seems odd. She also contrasts the long-lasting War on Terror with the events of the post-World-War-Two period in American history. If the bills that are pending pass, she explains, they will go significantly beyond prior War on Terror policies, which were already broad to begin with. Mariner describes the bills as dangerous and irresponsible, and points to the irony that Congress can make bipartisan compromises in the fraught area of counterterrorism, but not when it comes to sorely needed economic measures. If the bills pass, Mariner reports, they will essentially make Guantanamo permanent, embrace detention without trial—which had previously been seen as un-American—and make the military the presumptive detaining and prosecuting authority in certain categories of cases. Mariner points out that even the Bush Administration tried and convicted many terrorism suspects in federal court, rather than resorting to military justice. Finally, she expresses hope that President Obama will veto the bills, as he has threatened to do.

A Patient Sues His Dentist Over a Contractual Ban on His Posting Negative Online Reviews of Her Work: Why His Class Action Appears to Have Merit

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the recent controversy over doctors (and other healthcare providers) who require their patients to sign contracts stating that they will not post reviews of the doctor (or other healthcare provider) on review-and-rating websites, such as Yelp.com and the like. In addition, Ramasastry explains, a clause contained in the contracts at issue purports to transfer the patients’ copyright in any such reviews to the doctor—presumably so that the doctor can have such reviews quickly and directly taken down after they are posted. Ramasastry describes the class action lawsuit that is pending with respect to such contracts, and the allegations of a plaintiff in the suit. She also explains other kinds of challenges to this type of contract that are being made in other venues, and describes several useful websites that seek to inform patients of their rights and options when they are required by their doctor or other health-care provider to sign such a contract.

A Health Care Law That Everyone in Congress Can Agree Upon

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf, and Justia guest columnist and Duke law and political science professor Neil S. Siegel comment on an interesting but less often discussed aspect of the controversial 2010 federal health care law. As Dorf and Siegel explain, before the Supreme Court reaches the merits of the case involving the health care law, it must first consider the federal Anti-Injunction Act, which became law in 1867. Dorf and Siegel note that the Anti-Injunction Act requires taxpayers who object to the federal government’s assessment or collection of a tax to first pay up, and only then sue for a refund. With respect to the federal health care law, Dorf and Siegel explain, that would delay even the very beginning of federal litigation until 2015. Yet both the law's fans and its detractors want a decision from the Supreme Court much earlier than that. Some would opt to simply ignore the Anti-Injunction Act, but as Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit commented, “There is no ‘early-bird special’ exception to the Anti-Injunction Act.” Fortunately, Dorf and Siegel offer an ingenious solution to this dilemma that combines a reasonable interpretation of the Anti-Injunction Act with the passage of a new federal stature.

The Republican Dream for the 2012 Presidential Election: Control of the U.S. Supreme Court

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John W. Dean discusses a less-remarked but extremely important aspect of the 2012 presidential race: Its outcome may exert a profound influence on the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, if the Republican candidate prevails. As Dean explains, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg approaching her eighties, and having experienced some health issues, Republicans foresee her possible retirement from the Court. And, if a Republican President were to be elected in 2012, and Ginsburg were indeed to retire, then that President would have a chance to create a solid conservative majority on the Court. Dean describes the Court’s current composition, and contends that if a conservative were indeed to take Justice Ginsburg’s (or another moderate or progressive Justice’s) spot, that would create a majority that would be not only conservative, but also radical and fundamentalist in its conservatism. Such a majority, Dean notes, would put the Court far out of step with Americans’ views. Indeed, Dean predicts, drawing in part on the work of Martin Garbus, that a conservative majority could even take America back to a pre-New Deal world—and one where long-established rights are abolished or severely compromised. He thus urges even the most unhappy former Obama supporter to think seriously about the fate of the Supreme Court when casting his or her vote.

A Tale of Two States and Three Survivors: The Legal Obstacles Relating to Syracuse University’s Sex Abuse Scandal

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the obstacles to bringing prosecutions and civil suits based upon the alleged child sexual abuse by Syracuse associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine. Hamilton explains why the first two alleged victims who came forward may not receive justice due to the New York statute of limitations (SOL) that will govern their cases, and why the third alleged victim, who says he suffered abuse in Pennsylvania, will be subject to less draconian SOLs. Hamilton argues for SOL reform in these states and nationwide, and takes on the question of whether it should matter—or will matter—to judges and jurors that the third alleged victim who came forward in the Syracuse scandal is himself facing child sexual abuse charges. Hamilton points out, regarding this issue, that child sex abuse victims disproportionately become abusers themselves—suggesting that they deserve at least some sympathy, as their own childhood abuse is likely one causal factor in their own later abuse of children. She also calls for SOL standardization across the country, so that pedophiles can no longer choose to live in the locations with the most lenient laws (via federal incentives offered to states that opt for reform, and federal penalties for those that do not). In addition, Hamilton suggests that states create SOL “windows” to help past victims of child sexual abuse whose civil claims otherwise would be time-barred confront their accusers in court and find justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up The Eighth Amendment and Juvenile Killers: Is Life Without Parole Too Severe?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on two criminal law cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court has granted review. As Colb explains, the two cases together raise the following question: Does the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishments ban prohibit mandatory sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for homicide offenses committed by fourteen-year-olds? In one case, the fourteen-year-old had suffered years of abuse and neglect, as well as severe poverty. In the other case, the fourteen-year-old apparently learned only on the way to a planned robbery that one of his accomplices was carrying a gun, and it was the accomplice who committed murder during the robbery, not the fourteen-year-old. (The fourteen-year-old was thus only charged with murder under the “felony murder” doctrine, based on his participation in a robbery that led to murder.) Colb explains that, in these two cases, the Court will need to consider the relationships among three relevant factors: (1) the capacity of an offender to behave morally; (2) the wrongfulness of the offender’s behavior; and (3) the harmful consequences of the offender’s actions. She describes the relevant prior Supreme Court precedents regarding juvenile offenders and other criminal law topics, and raises intriguing questions such as whether youth itself should be a mitigating factor to be taken into account in sentencing, in light of young teens’ demonstrably poor impulse control and susceptibility to pressure from others. Colb also covers the sentencing concepts of proportionality and discretion, and explains how they relate to these two cases. In addition, she describes—and, to some extent, challenges—the Supreme Court's “Death is different” jurisprudence, which singles out the death penalty for special notice despite the tremendous severity of an LWOP sentence, and the failure of an LWOP sentence to leave the offender hope for the future.

An Illinois Court Weighs in on the Protection of Anonymous Internet Message Board Speech

When you post an anonymous message on an Internet message board, how anonymous is it, really? Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent Illinois state court appellate decision regarding the First Amendment right to speak anonymously. The dispute at issue arose from a number of anonymous comments posted on a newspaper website's message board, and relating in part to a local election. The target of the comments sued for defamation (via his parent, as he was a minor). However, the Illinois court—after clarifying Illinois law pertaining to defamation cases involving an anonymous defendant—found that the statements at issue were not necessarily defamatory, but rather could, and should, be subject to an innocent interpretation. Hilden argues that while the court’s invocation of the innocent-construction rule here was dubious, the court was right to protect the anonymity of the message-board-poster defendant.

The California Supreme Court Rules that Prop. 8’s Proponents Have Standing to Defend the Initiative: What Does That Mean in the Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court?

Justia columnist Vikram David Amar, and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on the latest ruling in the litigation regarding Proposition 8, the California anti-gay-marriage initiative. Amar and Brownstein begin by noting that this ruling holds that the initiative’s proponents have the authority to defend the initiative in California state court, now that elected representatives have declined to do so. They then summarize all the Prop. 8 litigation that has occurred thus far. In addition, they explain what may happen if this case reaches the U.S Supreme Court based on the standing issue it presents (that is, the issue of whether the parties at issue are legally able to bring this case). They cover a reason why the Supreme Court might decline to find federal standing: until now, initiative proponents have not been elected or specifically deputized by the people. Finally, they briefly discuss some other troubling questions regarding the Prop. 8 litigation that the California ruling did not address.

Why the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Declined to Change Its Mind About “Nipplegate,” Despite a Recent Opportunity From the U.S. Supreme Court to Do So

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden explains why a case regarding the famous 2004 “Nipplegate” incident—involving Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and the Superbowl—has returned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit: An FCC crackdown led to a whopping fine for CBS, which is still being litigated. The Supreme Court recently sent the case back for reconsideration, in light of the High Court’s recent, related decision in FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. But upon reconsideration, two judges on the three-judge Third Circuit panel reached essentially the same decision that they had reached on the first go-round, despite the High Court’s direction to take into account the Fox ruling. In light of that fact, Hilden suggests that the “Nipplegate” case may end up at the Supreme Court—for the Justices may be unhappy with the Third Circuit panel majority’s approach of reiterating its prior decision, while emphasizing certain points it made earlier even more, in light of Fox, rather than altering its approach with Fox in mind.

Dealing with E-personation: A Recent New Jersey Case Shows Why New Laws Aren’t Really Needed to Address Fake Facebook Profiles and the Like

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on recently-enacted state laws that cover the growing occurrence of “e-personation.” As Ramasastry explains, “e-personation” occurs when thieves, scam artists, people seeking revenge, or bullies use the Internet to pretend to be someone else—either by creating a fake Facebook or web profile, or by communicating via email with third parties under a false name. She notes that the object of e-personation is often to defraud, perhaps in order to gain the target’s confidential information. Ramasastry considers whether separate e-personation laws are really necessary, and contrasts California’s and New Jersey’s respective approaches to e-personation. She argues that, in most circumstances, it is not necessary for states to pass a special law to reach e-personation, since the laws already on the books will suffice. Noting that currently, only California, New York, and Texas have separate e-personation statutes, she urges other states not to follow suit and simply enforce the laws they already have. She also discusses the possible First Amendment issues raised by some applications of e-personation laws.

Scholars’ Amicus Brief Controversy Reflects the Evolving Relationship Between the Bench and the Legal Academy

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the evolution and role of the “scholar brief.” A scholar brief is an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief submitted to a court—usually, the U.S. Supreme Court—by a law professor acting in his or her role as scholar, rather than advocate. Dorf notes that a column in The New York Times recently pointed to Harvard Law Professor Richard Fallon’s article draft questioning the value of scholar briefs, by suggesting that they are very often not particularly scholarly. In this column, Dorf considers why scholars’ amicus briefs have proliferated recently, and what light that proliferation sheds on the evolving relationship between the bench and the legal academy. In particular, Dorf connects the proliferation of scholar briefs to the increasing divide between legal scholarship in the academy, and the more practical work of the courts, including the Supreme Court. And yet, he notes that the academy’s work—contrary to the claims of some—actually does continue to have relevance to courts, in part by showing how disciplines such as economics and psychology can better illuminate the workings of the law.

Can Laypersons Ordained Online as Universal Life Church Ministers, or the Like, Officiate at Weddings? In Some States, the Answer Is No

In the second of a two-part series of columns raising questions about the legal effect of online ordination, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses whether persons who are ordained only by an online ministry, with no prerequisites for ordination but the payment of a fee, can legally perform marriages. Such online ministries include the Pastafarians (who belong to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), the Church of Body Modification, the Universal Life Church, and others. Grossman points out that in some states, such ordinations mean nothing, and thus, marriages performed by such “ministers” will not be valid. She focuses, especially, on New York, where the validity of such marriages is especially doubtful.

An Unfortunate Potential Situation for the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the Occupy Wall Street movement, in light of his own experience with Vietnam War protests. During the war, Dean initially served as an associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department, often acting as a mediator between the protesters and the government. Later, he served as Counsel to President Nixon and as the Nixon Administration’s top anti-war protest intelligence analyst. While Dean applauds and supports today’s Occupy Wall Street movement, he warns that the movement may encounter some of the same problems that the Vietnam War protesters faced. In particular, Dean observes that the Occupy Wall Street movement is likely to grow in size and duration. Indeed, he contends that—since the problems the Occupy Wall Street movement decries cannot be solved by a single action, such as ending a war—the movement’s duration has the potential to exceed that of the Vietnam War protests. Dean also regretfully predicts that the Occupy Wall Street movement will inevitably lead to violence, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the members of the movement absolutely do not want violence. Finally, Dean notes that today’s much faster communications technology may lead to a faster escalation toward violence, if violence does occur, than happened in the past. Thus, he concludes the challenge for the movement is to keep any violence that occurs isolated and contained.

The Universal Need for the Mandatory Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse

In the wake of the child sexual abuse scandals at Penn State and The Citadel’s camp, and within the Catholic Church and other religious institutions, Marci Hamilton suggests a better approach to the reporting and investigation of child sexual abuse claims. Hamilton argues that there should be a universal obligation to report abuse to a hotline, and that those who call the hotline in good faith, to report suspected abuse, should be legally immune to defamation claims. (False claims, however, would be penalized.) The hotline responders would then alert the appropriate agency or agencies. Hamilton also advocates strong failure-to-report penalties. She cautions, though, that a reporting obligation will not be enough; investigations must be improved too—noting that there was a 1998 report from a child’s mother about alleged Penn State abuser Jerry Sandusky, and yet, that investigation went off-track. Hamilton explains why that investigation was, and why similar investigations can be, ineffective, and she urges that investigators and others must keep in mind that empirically, children rarely lie about sexual abuse. Moreover, Hamilton notes that mandatory reporting will not only protect children, but also institutions that would otherwise have been destroyed by scandal, and now have the chance to take quick, decisive action against abusers.

Cavazos v. Smith: The Supreme Court Preserves the Chain of Command by Returning a Grandmother to Prison

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb offers an interesting perspective on the controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Cavazos v. Smith. There, the High Court summarily reversed a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit had granted a writ of habeas corpus to a grandmother who had been convicted—based on questionable evidence—of killing her grandson by shaking him violently. In her column, Colb focuses on two key issues that the case raised: (1) the extreme deference to state courts demanded by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA); and (2) the Supreme Court’s limited role in reviewing decisions of the lower courts. Colb also explains why there may be genuine doubts here as to the guilt of the grandmother. For instance, she points out that medical knowledge in the years between the trial and today has cast doubt on the prosecution experts’ conclusions ruling out innocent explanations of the autopsy evidence. The Supreme Court, however, seems to have believed that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in ruling for Smith, was substituting its own judgment for that of the jury—leading the High Court to summarily reverse the habeas corpus grant.

The Penn State Scandal: Why Is No One Talking about Title IX? Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In the second in a two-part series of columns on the Penn State alleged child sex abuse and failure-to-report scandal, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and U. Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake continue their commentary on a new and interesting legal aspect of the scandal. They argue that in addition to raising issues of criminal liability and civil tort liability, the alleged Penn State child abuse and the failure to report it may also raise issues under Title IX—the 1972 federal statute that prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex in their educational programs and activities. Here, in Part Two of the series, Grossman and Brake discuss particular issues that may arise if a Title IX claim is brought: Does it make a difference if a given boy was abused only once, for liability purposes? Did the alleged Penn State abuse occur under “any education program or activity” as the statute requires? Does Title IX apply to the alleged harassment by Jerry Sandusky of these particular boys, who (obviously) were not Penn State students? In answering these questions, Grossman and Brake explain why, at the very minimum, the alleged sexual assaults that took place in the showers of the Penn State locker room or its sauna would, at least, fall within Title IX’s reach. In addition, they explain the legal issues regarding Penn State’s potential liability for the abuse, and look to the Grand Jury’s report to see if actual notice and deliberate indifference can be proven, as Title IX requires. Finally, Grossman and Brake note that, for several reasons, there are likely to be no statute-of-limitations issues here, despite the passage of time.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more