Supreme Court Weakens Enforcement of Restraining Orders

The US Supreme Court issued a decision today that weakens enforcement of restraining orders. In Castle Rock, Colo. v. Gonzales, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Jessica Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of the court-ordered restraining order against her husband. Justice Scalia issued the opinion of the Court, and Justices Stevens and Bader Ginsburg dissented.

“Restraining orders aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if police officers are not required to enforce them,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which administers the National Center for Women and Policing. “This is a very troubling decision for women seeking protection from abusive partners, threatening stalkers, or other people who seek to harm them or their children.”

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 case stems from a $30 million lawsuit filed by Gonzales against the Castle Rock, Colorado police department for failing to respond to five phone calls she made reporting that her estranged husband had violated the restraining order she had placed against him and taken her three young daughters. Her husband, Simon, showed up at a police station hours after taking the girls and opened fire with an automatic weapon, which he had purchased after abducting the girls. The police fired back and killed Simon. All three girls had been shot and killed with multiple gunshots to the head; their bodies were in the back of Simon’s truck.

Under Colorado state law, the police are required to enforce court-ordered restraining orders by arresting violators. By failing to do so in this case, Gonzales and her lawyers argue that the police violated her 14th Amendment right to due process. In an en banc opinion, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Joined by the Bush administration and many police groups, including the National Sheriffs’ Association, the town of Castle Rock appealed the decision, arguing that it would be unrealistic to enforce every restraining order. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Gonzales, and the US Supreme Court reverses that decision.

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Castle Rock, Colo. v. Gonzales 04-278; Associated Press 6/27/05; Feminist Daily News Wire 3/21/05

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