Thursday, November 18, 2004

The federal domestic relations exception

A lawyer writes:
I read the following from a booklet by Dr. Stephen Baskerville published by the National Center for Policy Analysis.
Footnote 46: Federal courts do not exercise constitutional review over family law cases due to a rule known as the "domestic relations exception" established in the 1992 Supreme Court case of Ankenbrandt v. Richards. This decision excludes from the federal courts cases "involving divorce, alimony and child custody." This blanket rule has been vigorously enforced, denying access to federal courts for parents questioning the constitutionality of state laws and procedures regarding child custody, support levels and visitation rights of noncustodial parents.
At face value if this is true it would prevent the type of case you are considering, which is also the basis for the nationwide class action. However I took a quick glance at the Ankenbrandt case here here (and here) and it appears that Baskerville has greatly overstated the "domestic relations exception" - it appears to be only an exception to the diversity jurisdiction of federal courts (i.e., cases that are filed in federal court only because the plaintiff and defendant are citizens of different states). But diversity jurisdiction is not relevant to your case or to the nationwide class action; both would assert "federal question" jurisdiction - claims arising under the U.S. Constitution.

I can't find this particular article online but here is another booklet.
I am sure federal judges don't want to hear domestic disputes, and will find excuses to avoid it, but there must be some point where denials of constitutional rights will get their attention.

1 comment:

Roger said...

Baskerville is quite good at explaining what's wrong with the family courts.