The most controversial case for the U.S. Supreme Court this term does not concern abortion, gay rights, the death penalty, or even the detention of enemy combatants. No, the hottest legal issue is based on an argument between Hershel Hammon and his wife about their daughter going to a boyfriend's house.
For this, the administration of President George W. Bush filed a special friend-of-the-court brief, and even insisted on participating in oral argument before the Supreme Court despite the complete lack of any federal issue at stake.
The decisions in Hammon v. Indiana and in a very similar case heard the same day, Davis v. Washington, will reveal whether the justices believe that Americans are entitled to all the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights, or believe the Supreme Court can push the delete button on one of those rights.
The Sixth Amendment promises Americans that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him." As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia mentioned in the oral argument, the prosecutors in these two cases are seeking to get the court to create an exception to the Confrontation Clause for the benefit of any woman who makes an accusation against a man.
Officers from the Peru, Ind., police department had made an unsolicited visit to the Hammon couple (presumably after a call from a neighbor). Finding that the Hammons' argument had ended, but broken glass and a broken gas heater in the house, the policeman asked both husband and wife what happened. Each said the argument was over and everything was fine.
Unwilling to accept the couple's own resolution of the dispute, a policeman interrogated the Amy Hammon separately to get her side of the argument. This time, she informed the officer that she and her husband had indeed had an argument. Unlike her husband, Amy Hammon claimed it was violent - culminating with Hershel Hammon shoving her head into a gas heater, breaking its glass, and punching her in the chest. At the officer's request, the wife completed a battery affidavit conveying these allegations.
The wife did not press charges and never showed up in court. Undeterred, without ever putting the wife on the witness stand, the prosecutor obtained a battery conviction of the husband based on the signed legal paper.
Hershel Hammon received a one-year prison sentence, for which he spent 20 days in jail. His home was ruined and, with this serious conviction on his record, his ability to support his family was substantially diminished.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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