In its last day before summer recess, the Supreme Court issued decisions on six cases, only two of which, the decisions to outlaw copies of the Ten Commandments at a Kentucky courthouse and to protect copyrighted material in Internet file sharing, were widely covered by the media. In a troubling but all too familiar trend in media reporting, Castle Rock, Colorado v. Gonzales – a case that weakens enforcement of restraining orders in domestic violence cases – was largely ignored.
In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that Jessica Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of her mandatory court-ordered restraining order against her husband. Gonzales had filed a $30 million lawsuit against the Castle Rock, Colorado police department for failing to respond to five phone calls she made reporting a violation of the restraining order. The town of Castle Rock, backed by the Bush administration and several police organizations, won their argument that it would be unrealistic to enforce every restraining order. With the vast majority of restraining orders requested by women, according to the National Center for Violent Crime, the Castle Rock decision puts women’s lives in jeopardy and potentially lets police departments off the hook for failing to enforce mandatory orders.
FMF President Eleanor Smeal said of the ruling, “It is upsetting that this decision, which affects so many women and children, has been virtually ignored by the press. Even when women manage to pass tougher legislation, we can’t get it enforced. Mandatory restraining orders aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if police officers are not required to enforce them.”
The National Center for Women and Policing joined Women in Federal Law Enforcement, the National Black Police Association, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, the National Center for Women & Policing, and Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc. in filing an amicus brief in support of Gonzales’ claim that her due process rights were violated.
The Castle Rock ruling comes at a time when the 2005 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for re-authorization. This landmark piece of legislation, first passed by Congress in 1994, provides federal funding and protections for the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault and assistance to victims, including provisions for improvements in law enforcement and judicial response. Now more than ever, the re-authorization of VAWA 2005 will be critical to protecting women and their children from violence.