APA submitted five amicus curiae briefs in 2004 to the Supreme Court, appellate courts and state courts to advise them on an array of pending cases. The briefs provided research relevant to four public policy issues and built on past briefs' positions in some areas.

They span diverse issues, from race-based school admissions to the juvenile death penalty to same-sex couples' right to marry. To draft them, the association's Office of General Counsel collaborated with APA-affiliated groups and APA members to identify and present relevant psychological research.

Many of the briefs APA filed in 2004 build on policy issues that APA commented on in different court cases during the past few years, such as marriages between same-sex couples and race-based factors in education.

"The briefs on marriage for same-sex couples and the use of race as a factor are great examples of how APA develops policy based on research and then builds on and refines its presentation as more research is done and related public policy issues are presented to the courts," says Nathalie Gilfoyle, JD, APA's general counsel. "It shows APA working at its most efficient."

Race-based school transfers

In June, APA threw its support to a Lynn, Mass., school system that uses a voluntary desegregation plan that considers race when allowing its K-12 students to transfer schools within the district. Lynn encourages voluntary transfers to promote racial integration in its schools and will deny a transfer that creates racial segregation. The Lynn plan doesn't force desegregation; all students can attend their neighborhood school if they wish.

In Comfort v. Lynn, parents of elementary school students who were denied transfers argued the Lynn plan was unconstitutional because it used race as a factor in transfer decisions. The parents did concede that reducing racial isolation and educating students to be citizens of a multiracial nation are important goals, and that the Lynn plan effectively desegregates schools, but they said those goals weren't sufficient to justify the transfer policy.

The district court disagreed and sided with Lynn, claiming that promoting diversity and remedying de facto segregation were compelling enough goals to warrant the plan. The plaintiffs appealed the case to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

APA's brief to the appeals court includes recent psychological research on the "intergroup contact hypothesis," which says a person's greater contact with different racial groups under appropriate conditions is related to having less prejudice.

The brief also explains that children can develop prejudices at ages as young as five. It includes research showing that contact with many different ethnic groups helps children develop social and moral reasoning.

APA first presented many of the brief's arguments in a 2003 brief for Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, two cases concerning race-based admissions at the university level. The Lynn brief builds upon APA's position supporting diversity by showing that it is important among elementary and high school students as well, says Lindsay Childress-Beatty, PhD, JD, APA's deputy general counsel.

"The [Bollinger] research showed people have unconscious stereotypes, and this brief shows it's important to reach children before they develop those negative stereotypes," Childress-Beatty says. "It shows APA's belief in affirmative action while also showing that having our children experience an education with others from different races can promote harmonious group relations."

Open access to research

APA filed another brief in June, this time supporting access to research. A group of freelance writers and photographers sued National Geographic in Faulkner v. National Geographic Enterprises Inc. They claimed that by putting their stories and photographs from past magazine issues online, National Geographic magazine violated the Copyright Act. Their argument was that the works appeared in a medium other than the original magazine edition without the freelancers' permission. A U.S. District Court found National Geographic did not violate the copyright law, and the freelancers have appealed the case to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

APA jointly filed a brief with 30 other scholarly publishers supporting National Geographic's position. It says technological improvements in recent years have made scholarly works more widely available, which benefits students and scholars.

"We really don't think that authors or photographers are in any way injured by having these already published materials become available online," says James McHugh, JD, APA's senior counsel. "They have always been available in libraries all over the world, and this just broadens the availability of libraries to readers."

Juvenile death penalty

In July, APA filed a brief on a case with historic implications. Roper v. Simmons looks at whether the juvenile death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is barred by the Eighth Amendment.

Seventeen-year-old Christopher Simmons received a death penalty sentence after committing first-degree murder in 1994. Nine years later, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned Simmons's sentence on the grounds that the public wouldn't support juvenile executions and that such executions contradicted the Eighth Amendment. The State of Missouri appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If it upheld the Missouri top court's ruling, the Supreme Court would overturn its own position--set in the 1989 decision Stanford v. Kentucky--allowing use of the death penalty for convicted 16- and 17-year-olds.

APA's brief supports banning the juvenile death penalty. It presents recent psychological research on adolescents' developmental characteristics, such as that they are more impulsive and take more risks than adults, make more immature decisions, fail to resist peer influence and are more vulnerable to coercion and false confession.

The brief includes recent brain-imaging research on brain functioning that suggests an average brain continues to develop through the teen years, particularly in areas that control decision-making. The findings support the notion that adolescents have diminished responsibility for their actions, which defeats the purposes of capital punishment--deterrence and retribution, says psychologist Thomas Grisso, PhD, who worked on the brief.

"The brief's conclusion is especially true when one considers many 16- or 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system are developmentally delayed because of learning disabilities," says Grisso, a psychiatry professor and coordinator of the Law and Psychiatry Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Grisso says the case can also affect the public's view on handling juvenile crime. "We hope Roper will rule out juvenile executions," he says. "But the opportunity to bring that brain data to the court and the public will hopefully have a broader impact on how to better sentence and rehabilitate youth."

Same-sex marriage

APA finished filing briefs for the year in October and December, filing similar briefs in two different state cases concerning the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The questions in New Jersey's Lewis v. Harris, Oregon's Li v. the State of Oregon--both of which APA commented on in October--and Washington's Anderson et. al. v. Sims et. al.--which it will voice an opinion on this month--concern the right of same-sex couples to marry under state law. New Jersey has no explicit law prohibiting same-sex marriages, yet has nothing on the books protecting it either. Oregon voters elected in November to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which made moot the issue of whether licenses must be issued to same-sex couples, but it's unclear how that will affect some 3,000 same-sex couples who married last year before the ban.

In Washington, a King County Superior Court judge found banning same-sex marriage to be illegal according to the Washington state constitution's guarantee of equality, but the marriages go against the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

APA submitted briefs in each case supporting the couples' right to marry. As past APA briefs had done, these briefs review the extensive psychological literature that has found no difference between same-sex and heterosexual couples on characteristics such as levels of intimacy, feelings of commitment and desire for relationships. They also cite the growing body of research that shows same-sex couples make fit parents.

The briefs build on APA's stance opposing discrimination of gay and lesbian people. They follow the 2003 APA brief in Lawrence v. Texas supporting an end to sodomy laws and earlier briefs regarding the right of gay and lesbian people to gain custody of and adopt children. Most importantly, they implement the APA Council of Representative's resolution last July supporting same-sex marriage.

In fact, the literature referenced in the briefs derives from the research that an APA task force presented to APA's council, which led to the council's resolution at APA's Annual Convention in Honolulu.

But unlike past APA briefs supporting same-sex couples, these briefs also discuss the social and psychological benefits--to both gay and heterosexual people--of marriage as an institution. Namely, married people are healthier mentally, live longer and are more socially integrated into families than are nonmarried couples, psychological research suggests.

"The institution of marriage bestows unique psychological benefits on married people," says Gregory Herek, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and a contributor to the briefs. "It grants them an identity and affords them a special kind of social support." Denying marriage to same-sex couples subjects them to psychological stress and reinforces antigay stigma, the briefs say.

Further Reading

For more information on APA's amicus briefs, visit www.apa.org/psyclaw/amicus.html.