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Helena Silverstein, associate professor of government and law, was interviewed Monday on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” program. Silverstein, who has done extensive research on the implementation and impact of parental consent requirements on abortion, was interviewed about judges refusing to hear cases that involve abortion.

Silverstein provided perspective on the same topic in an article in the Sept. 4 issue of The New York Times, “On Moral Grounds, Some Judges Are Opting Out of Abortion Cases.” The article also appeared in many other newspapers around the country via the Times’ News Service.

CNN’s Bill Tucker mentions findings of the University of Buffalo Law School’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy. This is in reference to the article “Judicial Waivers of Parental Consent for Abortion: Tennessee’s Troubles Putting Policy into Practice” authored by Silverstein, Wayne Fishman, and Lafayette students Leanne Speitel ’02 and Emily Francis ’03 in the July 2005 issue of the center’s journal Law and Policy.

Speitel and Francis worked with Silverstein through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

A member of the faculty since 1992, Silverstein received Lafayette’s Marquis Distinguished Teaching Award in 2004. She holds master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

A transcript of the interview follows:

Lou Dobbs: Tonight, the crisis of morals and conscience in this country has extended into our legal system. A number of judges sworn to uphold our nation’s laws are now refusing to hear cases that involve abortion. Their refusals have tremendous implications for our legal system, perhaps for our entire society. Bill Tucker reports.

CNN Correspondent Bill Tucker (voice over): In this courthouse in Shelby County, Tennessee, there are judges refusing to hear cases involving teenagers and their requests for abortions. In turning down just such a case in June, Judge John McCarrell wrote that, “I could not in good conscience be a part of that process.”

The teenager was in court because the state of Tennessee requires a minor to have a parent’s permission or to ask the court for permission to decide for themselves. According to one judge in the Shelby County Circuit Court, there are five of the nine judges on the bench now refusing to hear cases involving that law referred to as the “Bypass Law” because it allows minors to bypass parental consent.

Nancy Moore, Boston University: The message being sent to Tennessee voters is that any judge who sits on this case must be someone who is either in favor of abortion or doesn’t particularly care.

Tucker: According to the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, judges in Alabama and Pennsylvania, as well as Tennessee, are now refusing to hear such cases and recusing themselves.

Helena Silverstein, Lafayette College: There are many judges who do not handle these cases and who will say, “I just don’t want to hear these cases. I’m not going to get into that in my county.”

Tucker: But it is not a judge’s role to like or dislike a law, counter legal scholars. It’s a legal argument fully embraced by another judge on the Shelby County Circuit Court.

Judge D’Army Baily, Shelby County Circuit Court: Judges are not legislators. And when it comes to this issue of judicial bypass, I didn’t pass that law. It has nothing to do with what I think about abortions, about minors. But that’s the law, and that’s the constitutional right of the minor.

Tucker: Charles Fried, former justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and the former solicitor general to President Reagan, summed up the situation like this: “If any judge has a problem upholding the law,” Lou, “they should resign.”

Dobbs: This is extraordinary, and a very difficult issue which we’re going to be following closely here. In their arguments they’re recusing themselves because of a conflict, a moral conflict, as they do on a host of other issues. But this is a very difficult one because it is a matter of upholding the law. Thank you very much, Bill Tucker.

Categorized in: Academic News