For Immediate Release - National Organization for Women
Contact: Jenny Thalheimer, 202-628-8669 x 116
"This is a truly outrageous decision—the U.S. Supreme Court just hung a 'shoot here' sign around the necks of battered women and their children all across the country," said NOW President Kim Gandy.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7 to 2 decision that police officers are exempt from legal action, even if their refusal to enforce a valid restraining order results in death. The decision in Castle Rock v. Gonzales said Jessica Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of the court order issued against her abusive estranged husband. Gonzales sued the town of Castle Rock, Colo., after she repeatedly pleaded with police to enforce the restraining order against her husband, who had kidnapped their three young daughters. The girls were eventually found dead inside his truck.
"Abusers may feel they have a green light to ignore restraining orders, and police departments under budget restraints could see domestic violence enforcement as a 'no penalty' area to cut resources," Gandy said.
Gonzales sued Castle Rock alleging the officers' failure to use "every reasonable means" to enforce her restraining order violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process. Although a federal judge in Denver dismissed her lawsuit, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals re-opened the case. They said the restraining order was a government benefit that should be enforced as any other property right. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the Bush administration filed on behalf of Castle Rock, saying that to uphold the 10th Circuit's findings would inappropriately insert the federal courts into state matters.
Writing for the majority yesterday, arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said Colorado's law does not entitle people who receive protective orders to police enforcement. Scalia wrote that, "Our cases recognize that a benefit is not a protected entitlement if government officials may grant or deny it in their discretion."
"I've heard that many local officials were nervous about this case, fearing a flood of lawsuits—and well they should, because we all know that battered women are at greater risk of murder after leaving the relationship," Gandy said. "One of the reasons is the 'who cares' attitude of police officers like those in Castle Rock when it comes to domestic violence—and now they have the Supreme Court's seal of approval."