Friday, September 12, 2008
The University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law is hosting “Red State v. Blue State: The Judicial Role in an Era of Partisanship” and family law is taking center stage in the presentations. The program has been put together by family law Professor June Carbone, the Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law, the Constitution and Society at the UMKC School of Law. “We have planned the conference to drive home the point that partisan divisions affect the gamut of cases, from high profile cases on abortion to the more numerous family law disputes on custody and cohabitation,” said Carbone, who is coordinating the conference.
Professor Suzanne Reynolds of Wake Forest University School of Law and candidate for the North Carolina Supreme Court, presented the keynote speech. Reynolds drafted statutes that modernized alimony and adoption law, and she co-founded a domestic violence program that the American Bar Association recognized for providing legal assistance to the poor. Her keynote called for more research on the role of public financing of judicial elections in preserving judicial independence.
The morning panel, moderated by Professor Mary Kay Kisthardt of the University of Missouri Kansas City, began with a presentation by Professor Vivian Hamilton, of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law, who framed the divergent values in family law as having their roots in biblical naturalism and liberal individualism. Her thesis was that each of these frames were flawed frameworks for family law decisionmaking. Professors Naomi Cahn of George Washington University Law School and June Carbone Linda C. McClain then presented their research on Red Families/Blue Families. They describe the "red family" framework in which the unity of sex, marriage and procreation is central and the "blue family" framework which supports deferred childbearing and diverse family forms. Their article argues that "the moral and symbolic conflicts between the two systems underlie the intensity of the increasing partisanship in U.S. politics which, in turn, may undermine the legitimacy of the judicial role. Cultural anxiety about changing family patterns combined with the strategic exploitation of these concerns for partisan advantage makes family issues an increasingly salient part of the political landscape. This poses challenges to the judicial role in resolving not only hot button issues such as abortion, but more prosaic individual family law cases." Finally Professor Linda C. McCain, professor at the Boston University School of Law contrasted the Carbone/Cahn theory with that of Richard Dworkin in his new book "Is Democracy Possible Here?" and found traces of both theories in the recent California Supreme Court decision finding prohibition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Your blogger Barb Glesner Fines provided commentary on the panel in terms of question about how the ideas presented in the program impacted family law teaching.