482 U. S. 400
June 9, 1987
Richard and Judith Smolin divorced, and Judith was given custody of the children. She remarried James Pope, and began moving around the country, finally settling in Louisiana. After being frustrated for years in his attempts to have visitation with his children, Richard obtained custody of them through the California courts, but Judith refused to turn the children over. As a last resort, Richard drove to Louisiana, found his children at a school bus stop, and took them back to California. At Judith Pope’s request, Louisiana charged Richard Smolin with kidnapping, and requested that California hand him over. California refused, claiming that Smolin could not possibly be guilty of kidnapping because he had legal custody of the children.
The Court ruled 7-2 that California had a Constitutional duty, under its extradition clause, to hand over Smolin. O’Connor wrote the majority opinion, which stressed that extradition requests were not the proper time for states to make judgment calls about the innocence or guilt of the accused. As long as a state followed correct procedure in making the extradition request, the other state could not refuse based on its own legal view of the charges.
Stevens dissented, and was joined by Brennan. He found that Smolin’s custody of the children was so well established legally that it was impossible for Louisiana to really consider him a fugitive from justice. If such baseless extradition requests had to be honored, Stevens argued, state boundaries would be meaningless. He disputed O’Connor’s treatment of extradition precedents, and pointed out that federal kidnapping law required all states to respect the custody judgments of other states. Stevens concluded by predicting that parents would continue to abuse the extradition system in custody cases.
Remarkably, the seven Justices in the majority were very obviously furious at Judith Pope and the State of Louisiana. They agreed with the dissent that, on the evidence, Smolin was innocent of the kidnapping charge. “We are not informed by the record why it is that the States of California and Louisiana are so eager to force the Smolins halfway across the continent to face criminal charges that, at least to a majority of the California Supreme Court, appear meritless. If the Smolins are correct, they are not only innocent of the charges made against them, but also victims of a possible abuse of the criminal process.” This sort of language is about as close as the Court will ever come to telling a prevailing party “f*ck you.”
I’m not sure whether I agree with O’Connor or Stevens. More than anything, I’m simply depressed by the facts of the case. My heart goes out to the children, Jennifer and Jamie, who were grievously wounded by their parents. Vitriolic custody battles scar the soul like almost nothing else in the judicial system. Children are not meant to be ripped apart from a father or mother.
What makes all of this so tragic is that the answer has always been available in plain sight. Chaste, self-sacrificing, lifelong monogamy has been commended to humanity since Genesis 2. And every empirical experience since then has abundantly proven that deviations from that design bring only misery, bitterness, poverty, heartbreak, and darkness. And still we reject God’s design, on the plea of preserving autonomy and ‘freedom’ – and to those altars, we sacrifice millions of ruined lives, calling them acceptable collateral damage. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” – Judges 21:25.