Academic journal article The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law

Introduction: Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) V. United States: Implementation, Litigation, and Mobilization Strategies

Academic journal article The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law

Introduction: Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) V. United States: Implementation, Litigation, and Mobilization Strategies

Article excerpt

Introduction .........207

I. Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales: Factual Background and the U.S. Federal Courts ..........208

II. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: An Alternate Legal Avenue ..........215

III. Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States: The Inter-American Commission's Landmark Decision ...........219

IV. The Question of Implementation ...........223

V. Recent Developments in Implementation of the Lenahan Decision ....225

Conclusion .......228

Introduction

My sincere thanks to the American University Washington College of Law Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law and the Women in the Law Program for inviting me to offer this keynote address, and especially to Madi Ford and Angie McCarthy for their impressive organization of today's event. Congratulations to the Journal on its 20th Anniversary! It is an honor to be here with such an esteemed group of colleagues and students at a law school that is sincerely committed to women's rights, human rights, and social justice.

Today's symposium, Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States of America: The Domestication of International Law, is devoted to a landmark case-a first on many fronts, as I will describe in a moment. In August 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights-the body of the Organization of American States responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights'-issued a decision in the case of Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States? finding the United States responsible for human rights violations against Jessica Lenahan, a domestic violence victim, and her three deceased children. The Commission rebuked the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision in an earlier iteration of the case, Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, which held that Ms. Lenahan (then Gonzales) had no personal entitlement under the procedural component of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause to police attention, let alone enforcement of her domestic violence restraining order, due to the discretionary nature of enforcement.3

I have had the privilege of representing Jessica Lenahan over the past eight years during the course of her legal journey, and collaborating with Ms. Lenahan and her family on advocacy that has arisen from her domestic and international cases. As anyone who has met her can attest, Jessica Lenahan is a true inspiration, whose resilience and fortitude in the face of adversity are striking. She is tremendously honored that this symposium is focused on her case, and has asked me to send her warm regards to everyone in the room.

I. Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales: Factual Background and the U.S. Federal Courts4

Many of you are familiar with the facts of Jessica Lenahan's tragic case, which occurred against the backdrop of a national problem of enormous proportions. In 1999, Jessica Gonzales, her husband Simon Gonzales, and their children were working class residents of Castle Rock, Colorado, a largely white, upper middle class town about thirty-five miles from Denver whose population in 2000 numbered approximately 20,000.5 Simon Gonzales had a history of abusive and erratic behavior, and by early 1999 he was growing increasingly unpredictable and threatening toward his family. In May and June 1999, Jessica Gonzales obtained two domestic violence restraining orders (one temporary, one permanent) against Simon Gonzales as part of a divorce action.6 The orders required Mr. Gonzales to stay away from Jessica Gonzales and their three daughters, Leslie, 7, Katheryn, 8, and Rebecca, 10. The permanent order, dated June 4, 1999, allowed for Simon Gonzales to visit with the children on alternate weekends, for two weeks during the summer, and for one "mid-week dinner visit" at a time prearranged by the parties.7 A preprinted notice to law enforcement on the back of the restraining order quoted Colorado's mandatory arrest law, which states that "[a] peace officer shall use every reasonable means to enforce a restraining order" and that upon finding probable cause of a violation of the restraining order, "[a] peace officer shall arrest, or, if an arrest would be impractical under the circumstances, seek a warrant for the arrest of [the] restrained person. …

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