This week is full of procedural detail, and I initially thought it was mostly filler. But as I looked more closely, I realized that it is actually extremely important to what is going on here—perhaps even the heart of the message Farris is trying to offer his readers.
It’s Monday morning now, and Peter has nearly finished his civil rights complaint. Joe suggests some changes, Sally types up a cover sheet, and it’s good to go.
Peter walked the eight blocks down Riverside Avenue, Spokane’s main business street, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on the top floor of the federal building.
There’s another line for your Spokane guidebook.
But the pressing question is, which judge will receive the case? There are two full-time federal judges in Spokane, but sometimes cases are given to retired “senior” full-time judges, and there’s no way for a lawyer to determine who will get their file when they file a case. Peter pays the filing fee and, once the paperwork is done, is eager to learn which judge got the case. The answer? Judge Stokes.
Stokes was a senior judge. He had gone into semi-retirement two years earlier after serving fifteen years. He had been appointed to the bench by Jimmy Carter in 1977 after a twenty-year career as a flamboyant litigator for a variety of liberal causes—including a number of cases where he had been a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
So, Peter thinks about it, and isn’t sure what getting Stokes portents. Farris tells us that Stokes is “no-nonsense on procedural matters” and that Peter has appeared before him a number of times. Peter is clearly worried about the ACLU ties. He heads back to his office to find Joe hard at work on cases that, you know, actually pay money.
“We got Stokes on the Landis file,” Peter said as eh stuck his head in the door.
“That’s great,” Joe replied.
“Great? He’s such lefty. Why is that great?” Peter asked.
“Precisely for that reason,” Joe replied. “You’ve got a very strong constitutional rights complaint against the government. Better a former ACLU lawyer appointed by a Democrat president than one of the Republican appointees who spent hitter careers defending corporations.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Peter said.
“Stokes will not let you will automatically. I have no idea ho the feels about child abuse cases. He may go off on some left-wing bleeding heart binge because the case involves the so-called need to protect children. But if this were any other kind of case where the government busted into somebody’s home without a warrant, Stokes would hang the government’s hide on the wall.”
“so-called need to protect children”?
“so-called need to protect children”?!
“SO-CALLED need to protect children”?!?!
Okay, now that that’s out of my system, let’s deal with the content here, shall we? Because actually what’s going on here is very interesting.
In his work as a lawyer and an activist, Farris goes to great lengths to speak of parents’ “fourth amendment rights” and the fact that the Constitution protects against search and seizure without a warrant. And he’s right. The problem is that children are not property. Does a social worker legally have to have either the owner’s permission, a warrant, or exigent circumstances to enter a home? Yes. But again, children are not property. Is there a difference between a parent refusing a social worker access to their child and a parent refusing a social worker access to their house? I would argue that there is. Besides, isn’t it the child’s house too? I’m not sure where are the lines should be drawn, but there are interesting discussions to be had here—discussions Farris isn’t even thinking about.
There are other interesting discussions to be had that Farris isn’t thinking about as well. For example, Farris seems much more concerned about the fact that Donna pushed her way into Gwen’s home than he is about the forced strip search of four-year-old Casey. While I’m not a lawyer, I would guess that a case like this could have the potential to force judges to think about children’s rights with regard to searches. When a child needs to be searched for bruises, or questioned about potential abuse, does that child have the right to experience these things in a way that makes them feel as comfortable and at ease as possible? What obligations does the social worker have to the child in how they go about carrying out their investigations? Now that could make for an interesting case!
Farris is taking what could be a very interesting case asking very interesting questions and turning it into something one-dimensional and flat, something that voids Casey’s rights and interests entirely and makes her into little more than Gwen’s property. Joe’s remark about “the so-called need to protect children” and his use of the term “left-wing bleeding heart” to refer to children’s rights activism rather puts the nail in that coffin. It’s a disgusting waste of what could be an interesting push to further children’s rights, not limit them.
With this out of the way, next week we get to see Blackburn, Donna, and Rita’s reactions when they receive news of the suit.