Legal Briefs (February 2014)

NASW, through its Legal Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief in Sevcik v. Sandoval, in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case is challenging Nevada’s denial of same-sex marriage as prohibited by the state’s constitution and statutory law.

In 2012, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Nevada ruled against the plaintiff same-sex couples. The plaintiffs are appealing the ruling.

The amicus brief argues that the judgment should be reversed, citing research that demonstrates that the psychological and social aspects of committed relationships between same-sex partners largely resemble those of heterosexual partnerships.

The brief also notes that there is no scientific basis for concluding that same-sex couples are any less fit or capable parents than heterosexual couples or that their children are any less psychologically healthy or well-adjusted. The brief argues that denying the status of marriage to same-sex couples stigmatizes them.

NASW, through its LDF, filed an amicus brief in Hall v. Florida in the U.S. Supreme Court. The case seeks to apply a 2002 Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that disqualifies executions of the “mentally retarded.”

The Atkins decision gave states substantial latitude in determining how a defendant can be designated as “mentally retarded.”

A Florida law enacted after the Atkins decision created a standard requiring proof of an IQ of 70 or below for a death penalty defendant to be determined “mentally retarded.” Freddie Hall, a Florida man, was ruled to be executed for a 1978 murder after his IQ was measured at various times to be just above 70.

The LDF amicus brief — filed with the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, as well as other professional mental health provider groups — argues that determining a person’s intellectual disability functioning based on a fixed IQ cutoff score alone is contrary to the mental health community’s professional diagnostic standards and unjustified by applicable clinical norms. It argues that diagnosis of intellectual disability in capital cases should be based on a comprehensive assessment of intellectual and adaptive functioning.

NASW and its Massachusetts Chapter joined several organizations in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case McCullen v. Coakley. The petitioners in the case seek to approach women entering clinics for family planning and abortion information in order to offer information about pursuing other alternatives.

Since 2007, Massachusetts has enforced “selective exclusion zones” which limit access of the petitioner groups on public sidewalks outside reproductive health facilities within 35 feet.

The amicus brief supports a court of appeals ruling that upholds the buffer zones in the state. It argues that the parameters are necessary to further the state’s interest in public safety and women’s access to health care. It notes that reproductive health facilities have faced years of violence and obstruction and that buffer zones have been shown to reduce violence, obstruction and harassment.

In other LDF News, the LDF Board at its October meeting approved a grant up to $3,500 for the NASW Texas Chapter to obtain additional legal assistance in the chapter’s efforts to aid members who have been requested to return money paid through the Texas Medicaid managed care program.

In addition, the LDF Board welcomed Drew Pledger as the new board representative and approved the LDF Annual Report for FY 2012-13.

For these and other cases, visit the Amicus Brief Database.