Feature

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided four cases in which APA had submitted amicus curiae briefs. The mix of cases--spanning affirmative action, forced medication for trial competency, sexual contact in same-sex couples and the prosecution of child sexual abuse--spurred APA to file an unprecedented four briefs this docket year. Here's how the cases were decided:

Forced medication

The Supreme Court tightened guidelines regarding the proof a trial court must show before ordering a mentally ill criminal defendant to be given antipsychotic medication to be competent enough to stand trial.

In Sell v. United States, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling imposed a balancing test--similar to the test APA set forth in its brief--that says antipsychotic drugs should only be forcibly administered if less intrusive nondrug alternatives fail to restore competence. The medication then must be highly likely to restore competence so that the benefits of medicating outweigh any behavior-altering side effects.

APA officials were pleased that the court adopted the same position outlined in its brief, which was filed in support of neither party in the case.

"This was a case in which a brief really made a difference," says Nathalie Gilfoyle, JD, APA's general counsel. "The decision signals that involuntarily medicating someone should be a last resort and not a first resort."

The case involves Charles Sell, a dentist diagnosed with a delusional disorder who was accused of making false insurance claims and was found incompetent to stand trial. He refused to accept medication that the court believed would restore his competence.

Race-based admissions

The Supreme Court upheld the use of race-aware admissions policies at public colleges and universities to obtain "educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body"--a stance supported by an APA amicus brief that summarized scientific research on the existence of racism and the importance of a diverse student body in countering it--as well as the need to provide more minority students with access to psychology and other fields.

"The decision is a great step for education in this country," says APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD. "I'm proud of the contribution APA made through its amicus brief."

The decision involved two separate lawsuits at the University of Michigan, one on undergraduate admissions and another on law school admissions. In the law school case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan's policy, 5-4, arguing that there was compelling interest for a diverse student body and that efforts to maintain a significant number of minority students did not constitute an illegal quota.

However, in a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled against Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy in the Gratz v. Bollinger case, claiming that it gives an overall advantage to minority students. The justices didn't reject the use of racial preferences to encourage diversity, though. Rather, they insisted that students be evaluated as individuals with race being only one of many factors considered.

Same-sex sexual contact

In agreement with APA's brief on Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas ban on private, consensual sex between same-sex adults.

According to the 5-4 decision, moral disapproval of homosexuality isn't reason enough to ban sexual activity and violate privacy rights--a major victory for gay rights advocates. The decision also overturns the Texas conviction of the two Houston men with whom the case originated. A police officer saw the men engaged in consensual sexual activity at home and arrested them.

APA's amicus brief argued that same-sex sexual contact is a normal part of many Americans' intimate relations, that homosexuality is not a disorder and that same-sex couples are frequently in committed, long-term relationships. It also declared that suppressing sexual intimacy would deprive gay men and lesbians of the full human experience and reinforce discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

"APA has for nearly 30 years now had a firm stand opposing discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people," says Clinton W. Anderson, APA's lesbian, gay and bisexual concerns program officer. "The laws that have criminalized sexual behavior for lesbian, gay and bisexual people have been almost incalculably detrimental to their lives, to their well-being and to their sense of safety."

Child sexual-abuse reporting

The Supreme Court ruled against part of a California law that allowed child sexual abusers to be prosecuted, regardless of the amount of time elapsed since they committed their crimes. This ruling was not the one that APA argued for in its amicus brief.

The 5-4 ruling in Stogner v. California applies only to offenders who were already protected from prosecution by the expiration of a three-year statute of limitations--a limit that has since been lifted. The decision says they cannot be prosecuted for crimes for which the three-year limit has already expired.

Because many children delay reporting sexual abuse until they are adults, the California statute examined by the Supreme Court allows charges to be brought within one year of the victim's reporting of the crime. APA's brief supported the California statute with scientific evidence that many children delay reporting abuse, that child sexual abuse has long-term consequences and that child molesters can remain a threat to children.

"While the Supreme Court did not uphold California's law allowing prosecution of child molesters who previously could invoke the statute of limitations as a defense," Gilfoyle says, "the decision was a narrow one and research by APA member Tom Lyons provided in our amicus brief was relied on in an impassioned dissent by Justice [Anthony] Kennedy."