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August 01, 2005


I suspected this was a monumentally stupid piece the first time I read it - otherwise I'd never have bothered to look up rational basis review (it's not as though I bash about the greater Washington metropolitan area with the definition rattling around in my brainpan).

Eugene Volokh weighs in:

What, though, was the precise "civil rights claim[]" that Judge Roberts was responding to here? It was Hedgepeth's argument that the government policy unconstitutionally discriminated based on age. But of course the Supreme Court has generally held that age discrimination is constitutional if it's rationally related to any legitimate government interest -- the most deferential of the equal protection tests. Here's Judge Roberts' argument in context (some paragraph breaks added):
We therefore need not review all the reasons given by the defendants in support of the challenged distinction between children and adults; it is enough that we find one reason rational. We conclude that the no-citation policy for minors is rationally related to the legitimate goal of promoting parental awareness and involvement with children who commit delinquent acts.

Issuing a citation to a child is complicated by the fact that there is often no ready way to ensure that the child is providing truthful or accurate identifying information. A child often will not be carrying a form of identification, and there is nothing to stop one from giving an officer a false name -- an entirely fanciful one or, better yet, the name of the miscreant who pushed them on the playground that morning. In this situation parents would be none the wiser concerning the behavior of their children.

The correction of straying youth is an undisputed state interest and one different from enforcing the law against adults. Because parents and guardians play an essential role in that rehabilitative process, it is reasonable for the District to seek to ensure their participation, and the method chosen -- detention until the parent is notified and retrieves the child -- certainly does that, in a way issuing a citation might not.

The district court had and we too may have thoughts on the wisdom of this policy choice -- it is far from clear that the gains in certainty of notification are worth the youthful trauma and tears -- but it is not our place to second-guess such legislative judgments.

Given the Supreme Court's rulings that age is not a "suspect" or "quasi-suspect" classification, and therefore age classifications are permissible whenever they're rationally related to a legitimate government interest, it seems to me that Judge Roberts' decision was perfectly sound -- and that a contrary decision on the equal protection issue would have been inconsistent with the Supreme Court caselaw that Judge Roberts was required to follow. (As to why Judge Roberts' decision was also correct, and mandated by the Supreme Court precedents, as to the Fourth Amendment, see this post below).

And let's keep in mind the hideous punishment meted out to this 12-year-old child.

She was detained for three hours. We are shocked.

Posted by Cassandra at August 1, 2005 05:11 PM

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Did the police make her wear panties on her head or do naked pyramids?

I can hardly see what the issue is then.

Posted by: KJ at August 2, 2005 07:22 AM

I still am on the fence on this one.

Posted by: Cricket at August 2, 2005 07:52 AM

Constitutionally this was an easy decision.

Even if you think this is a bad, poorly reasoned law, not all bad laws are unconstitutional.

Posted by: KJ at August 2, 2005 09:57 AM

Cricket, I think this is a separation of powers thing. Liberals are mad because the courts did not step in an activist role and take over the role of the legislature.

But there is a VERY important piece of the story missing here - one that *never* gets reported.

In the aftermath of this case, the law in question was amended.

In other words, it was a bad law, it was shown in practice to be one, the courts essentially said, "Hey idiots, this is a stupid law but we have no power under the Constitution to overturn it, although we question the wisdom".

And the people fixed the bad law.

All in all, the way representative government is SUPPOSED to work. Not hitting every problem with a sledgehammer, not guaranteeing there will never be speedbumps along the way. But once there are problems, the system works them out in time.

But people always want a quick fix.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 2, 2005 12:18 PM

Thank you for clarifying that. Another reason why you are the read du jour. About being detained. I think every twelve year old child should have a time out.

*running away*

Posted by: Cricket at August 2, 2005 02:29 PM

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