A Safety Seal: What Restraining Orders and Tic Tacs Should Have in Common but Don’t

Posted on September 6, 2013


I’ve written recently about restraining orders’ circumvention of due process and remarked that at the time of their advent—the 1970s—this may have seemed to lawmakers like an urgently necessary evil.

The phrase due process, to recap, refers to granting defendants (like recipients of restraining orders) the opportunity to defend themselves before a judgment is entered on allegations made against them. Restraining orders deny defendants due process, because their guilt is conclusively presumed without judges’ knowing who they are (even so-called “appeals hearings” may afford a defendant no more than a 15-minute audience with a judge who already supposes him or her to be guilty).

To put it baldly, defendants are issued orders from the court that manifestly identify them as creeps and that may summarily (and indefinitely) deprive them access to home, children, money, and property based on the court’s knowing nothing more about them than their names and what someone alleged against them, which the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted to guarantee can’t happen.

The motive for denying restraining order defendants due process—for which legislators are to blame, not judges—was satisfying feminist outrage by ensuring female victims of domestic violence didn’t have to worry about their allegations being discounted or criticized by the police, as they well might have been in the ’70s (imagine being knocked around and terrorized at home then publicly ridiculed or excoriated by authorities—all men—for complaining about it). Restraining orders authorized battered women to take their allegations directly to a judge and thereby be granted immediate relief from unbearable circumstances.

Though social attitudes toward women’s rights and domestic abuse have shifted radically in 30 years (to a vulgar extreme, many might argue), no one, however, has looked back. Restraining orders continue to follow the same policies they did from the start (or laxer ones) and have only become more widely applied and sprouted more and sharper teeth.

The last commentary noted that at the time restraining orders were enacted, legislators assuredly never gave a thought to the possibility that they would be abused.

At that time, no one had considered that somebody might intentionally sabotage foodstuffs or over-the-counter medications, either. It never occurred to manufacturers or government overseers of product safety standards that somebody might poison others just for the fun of doing them harm—or just because they could.

Following Tylenol’s being tampered with in 1981, everything from diced onions to multivitamins requires a safety seal. Naive trust was violated, and legislators responded.

Legal lions, scholars, and journalists have denounced the injustice of restraining orders for 20 years now at least, and any number of lives fractured by wrongfully issued restraining orders have been publicly chronicled. Even government studies have concluded that a majority of restraining orders are sought unnecessarily or falsely and that only a small minority ever even allege violence.

How many more people have to be poisoned by a widely abused judicial process before the same cautionary measures applied to Tic Tacs are applied to it?

Time for a manufacturer recall.

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