Supreme Court Justices Skeptical at Oral Argument

March 21 2005, 8:58 PM

News reports indicate that several Supreme Court justices voiced skepticism about the validity of Jessica Gonzales' claim for money damages against the Castle Rock police for failing to follow up on a restraining order violation she reported to them. Hours later, her estranged husband killed their three daughters. (Background here and here.) Justice Stephen G. Breyer expressed concern that a ruling in her favor would trigger an avalanche of such lawsuits.

Plenty of laws impose a duty on the government, he noted, "but that doesn't mean the victim has a right to enforce it" by suing, he added.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor expressed similar concerns and also opined that the ruling would add a new and major requirement to law enforcement obligations.

Justice David Souter stated the police should have wide discretion in deciding which cases to follow up on. Justice Scalia called the claim "zany." Only two justices, Ginsberg and Stevens, seemed to lean towards Ms. Gonzales claim.

Can they just ignore all orders of this kind?" Stevens asked. Yes, said a Bush administration lawyer, although the failure to act may lead to a lawsuit in the state courts, he added.