Yesterday in Miami Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman overruled the state’s law banning adoption by same-sex couples. As I understand it, this ruling applies only to the particular case in question (two men and their foster sons), so its impact may be small. Although I’m not familiar with specifics of the case or the ruling beyond what I’ve gleaned from some media reports, here’s what struck me: Much of the testimony and the ruling were based on findings in relevant social-science research about children reared by different types of parents.
In a 53-page ruling that reads at times like a social science paper, Lederman dissected 30 years worth of psychological and sociological research, concluding that studies overwhelmingly have shown that gay people can parent every bit as effectively as straight people and do no harm to their children. (Boston Herald, 11/26)
What I find sadly amazing, if it’s true, is that this use of social-science evidence in such legal cases is quite rare, as I infer (perhaps wrongly) from this statement in the Catholic News Agency‘s 11/25 story: “The attorneys said the case was the first in the nation in which experts in child psychology, social work and other fields argued there is no scientific justification for a homosexual adoption ban.” Perhaps they’re just saying it’s rare for experts from those particular fields to make those particular arguments; hard to tell from this excerpt.
At any rate, this led me to two thoughts, about which I’d appreciate any comments—especially from folks familiar with legal training—or pointers toward relevant discussions or other resources:
1. How much and what kind of training in science does the typical judge, attorney, or other legal professional typically have? Is there anything in law school or pre-law curricula that addresses things like scientific methodology—especially in disciplines relevant to legal practice (which I suppose could vary widely)—or basic statistical issues?
2. Is it feasible to require or at least strongly encourage legal professionals—especially judges—to demonstrate some minimally acceptable level of science literacy? No doubt they have enough to learn without being burdened by more information and requirements, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to expect judges to have a solid grasp on some scientific principles that would help them evaluate empirical research evidence when confront with it. I suspect this would ultimately benefit freethinking, secular, and similar causes more than religious ones.
One initiative that seems aimed at increasing the role of science in law is the Center for Empirical Research in the Law at Washington University in St. Louis. Is it working? Do other efforts like this exist?