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Restraining orders are a shame on the American justice system that has excited protest from prominent academics, legal authorities, and journalists for decades.
Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, spoke the unspeakable nearly 20 years ago and acknowledged that restraining orders are "granted to virtually all who apply." Scholar and writer Camille Paglia has indicted them for over 15 years as offensive to feminism and female dignity. The subhead to Cathy Young's 1999 Salon article, "Hitting Below the Belt," labels them "easy to get" and "hellish to deal with." Columnist Phyllis Schlafly bluntly calls them hateful.
Yet the policies that inform the administration of restraining orders have stolidly refused to hearken, and the judicial machinery that cranks them out has only upped production.
That restraining orders are routinely abused is common knowledge. Less well known is that they're always abusive.
Millions of citizens, the vast majority of them men, are carelessly issued restraining orders every year by our courts, often without conclusive grounds but never without menace.
Restraining orders threaten their recipients with arrest, publicly impute to them criminal intentions and deviancy, and can even forbid them access to home, property, and children - all of this instigated by an interview between a judge and an applicant that may take less time than a drive-thru transaction.
Verdicts are pronounced on restraining order recipients based on effigy or even mere implication. Accusation suffices for fault.
However unsubstantiated a restraining order's allegations may be - and these often include the likes of stalking, fixation, and violence or the threat of violence - they're given official credibility by the court and indelibly stamped on a recipient's record.
The burden of proof is on the defendant in these cases, contrary to the most elementary principles of law.
In some jurisdictions, courts don't even invite defendants to present contradictory evidence or testimony. Recipients of restraining orders must appeal for the opportunity to defend themselves. The window extended to apply for such an appeal is days. The time granted it is minutes. The attention afforded it is scant.
There's no disputing that all restraining order recipients are victims of rights violations by the state. This fact aside, as many as 80% of restraining orders are said to be unnecessary or based on false allegations, making recipients in a majority of cases the only victims.
For a more detailed examination of the issues introduced here, consult this petitioner's blog on restraining orders at RestrainingOrderAbuse.com.
Restraining orders make stooges of judges and an inquisition of civil procedure. They're an invisible but epidemic outrage that is extravagantly overdue for repeal or revision by lawmakers. Please help bring it to their attention by adding your name to this petition.
We the undersigned move honored members of our federal and state legislatures to deny support to and repeal or reform restraining order policies that each year violate millions of American citizens' constitutional rights, suborn judges to disavow their oaths of office, promote distrust both in government and its guarantee of equality under the law, and unconscionably drain this nation's resources of over $4 billion.
For giving earnest consideration to our appeal to honor due process and the egalitarian principles our legal system was founded upon, thank you.