Marci Hamilton's Crusade

Several weeks ago there was a rather unpleasant exchange in First Things, between Marci Hamilton of the Cardozo School of Law, and Martin and Melissa Nussbaum of the Diocese of Colorado. Ms. Hamilton supports lifting the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, while the Nussbaums are decidedly against the idea. There are reasonable arguments on both sides, and, in this particular discussion, unreasonable arguments on both sides. But I think removing the statute of limitations, as Ms. Hamilton proposes, is likely to provide little benefit in terms of deterring abuse, and myriad opportunities for malicious or frivolous litigation. Furthermore, Ms. Hamilton’s professed concern for children has been rather morbidly focused on the Catholic Church rather than, for instance, public schools, where abuse problems are far more rampant.

I thought at the time I read the exchange that Ms. Hamilton’s name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. And then I remembered: Ms. Hamilton was the author of a rather incautiously written book entitled God v. the Gavel, in which she made a case against many traditional religious liberties (noticing a theme in her oeuvre?). I say incautiously because the book contained enough errors and sloppy argumentation to elicit a legendarily harsh book review from Douglas Laycock, one of the field’s most distinguished scholars. The whole review is worth reading if the topic is of interest to you (or if, like me, you enjoy reading rigorous criticism), but here is the conclusion:

Occasional errors are inevitable, but here the extraordinary number of errors, often with reference to famous cases and basic doctrines, implies a reckless disregard for truth. I document these errors for a reason. No one should cite this book. No one should rely on it for any purpose. You might use its footnotes as leads to other sources, but take nothing from this book without independent verification.

Legal scholars may be advocates, and they may reach out to nonscholarly audiences, but every scholar has a minimum obligation of factual accuracy and intellectual honesty. God vs. the Gavel does not come close to meeting either standard. Nor does it offer a sustained argument for its legal claim about the institutional competence of courts and legislatures. Its many footnotes offer the patina of scholarship, but there is no substance of scholarship. This book is unworthy of the Cambridge University Press and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

It would appear the Nussbaums are not the first to question Ms. Hamilton’s good faith.

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7 Responses to Marci Hamilton's Crusade

  • Matt McDonald says:

    More children are abused each year in the California Public School System than there are children in the whole US Catholic School System…. Public School teachers are many more times likely to abuse a child than are clergy of any religion, and Catholic clergy are even less likely than all religions…. We are just too big a target.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski says:

    Yo, Marty (Nussbaum):

    So we don’t get off on the wrong foot here, let me introduce myself. I am a life-long Philadelphia Catholic who values his religion/faith dearly. Married for over 34 years with two special needs daughters..I tell you this because this writer is quite accustomed to speaking up and out and advocating for those who fall victim to the agencies/organizations whose mission it is to serve people and, in this case, Catholic parishioners.

    If your style is anything like the lead counsel to Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Phila., then this will be most interesting. I’m sure you have had some communication with the very special William Sasso, and, if not this icon, surely the head of his non-profit group, Mark Chopko (former counsel to America’s Bishops).

    Anyhow, I would like to quote your opening statement from a “First Things” article in 2003. I just love that publication, “First Things”, because it so aptly describes and portrays the US Catholic Church, its leadership, both lay and religious as well as its management and organizational style. In other words, the “first things” we take care of is “ourselves.” No, no, Marty, you don’t understand, Our Lord made it quite clear and the “first things” are the children.

    “Let us stipulate from the beginning, as we lawyers say, that the Catholic scandal is fueled
    by a minority of priests who, mostly from the mid-1960s through the early 1990s, egregiously
    violated their ordination promises; by the bishops who reappointed known perpetrators; and by
    partisans of the left and the right now seeking to advance their pre-existing agendas for Church
    reform.”

    Marty, partisans, left and right, advance pre-existing agendas for Church reform, etc…….Marty, maybe it’s the high altitude in Colorado but you’re making as much sense as the Catholic leader, Cardinal Kaput (yeah, I got it right, he’s over and kaput). See if you can follow this one, I’ll take it slow…….the agenda here is to PROTECT OUR CHILDREN.

    You can jump in anytime and help out if you want. Why don’t you take your high-powered legal expertise and address the sovereign immunity issue regarding sexual abuse of children in public schools. This way, Marty, you take care of the children in the public arena and Marci will take care of the children in the religious arena. Now that sounds like a plan,….what do you think, Marty?

    Back to the original point of this correspondence….I envision a title bout between Marty and Marci……we have the Vegas venue on your end or the Atlantic City venue here. As mentioned, you guys can use the sobriquet “Abusers-Enablers” and Marci’s side will be appropriately called “Children-Survivors” We would have all of the accompanying hoopla as the date/day approaches with the media, press and oddsmakers weighing in on the outcome. We have all of the factors for an interesting bout……age, gender, experience differences and concerns. Height, weight, reach and even, you guessed it, hairstyle.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Michael S.,

    You failed to advance any argument for either side. Your comments are neither constructive nor helpful.

    I appreciate the passion on both sides of the debate, but mocking people for taking a position will not be tolerated on this blog.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski says:

    Sir…..satire and what you call “mocking” aside, the only truth that matters here is that “First Things” in our society should be the protection of our children. Marty’s diatribe that is personally directed at Ms. Hamilton and her extraordinary efforts to protect this nation’s children, both now and in the future….now this, sir, is mocking behavior and conduct.
    Mr. Nussbaum, as counsel to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, would do well to obey the court’s directive as part of the settlement agreement and turn over the personnel files…..stop the obfuscation and delay.

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