The issue before the Supreme Court involved two cases in
which the defendants were 14-year-old boys: Miller v. Alabama
and Jackson v. Hobbs. The cases include the same issues
discussed in two previous Supreme Court cases in which APA
also filed amicus briefs. The first, Roper v. Simmons (2005),
held that imposing the death penalty on defendants under age
18 violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and
unusual punishment. The second, Graham v. Florida (2010),
held that giving life-without-parole sentences for non-homicide
offenses committed by defendants under age 18 also violated
the Eighth Amendment.
APA’s brief for the cases before the court in 2012
stated that a sentence without parole violates the Eighth
Amendment because juveniles’ immaturity, vulnerability and
changeability make them less culpable than adults. “Research
shows that you cannot predict what an adult is going to be
like based on what he was like when he was 14,” says Laurence
Steinberg, PhD, of Temple University, who has conducted
extensive research in the area. “The juvenile deserves a chance
at being rehabilitated.”
APA’s brief highlighted research showing that adolescents
are inherently more impulsive, more short-sighted and more
susceptible to peer influence. “They are not as responsible,
therefore, less punishable,” says Steinberg. The brief also
emphasized adolescents’ ability to change as they mature.
Steinberg notes that the decision does not ban a life sentence
without parole. “The juvenile can still get a life sentence without
parole,” he says.
In the case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the U.S.
Supreme Court considered whether the University of Texas at
Austin (UT) can use race as a factor in deciding whom they
admit to the university.
In the case, Abigail Fisher, a white Texan, filed a lawsuit after
she was denied admission to UT, arguing that the university
discriminated against her because of her race. She asserted that
under UT’s admissions policy, students with lesser credentials
had been admitted in her place.
In August, APA filed a brief in support of UT, arguing
that the government’s interest in promoting diversity in
higher education had not changed since Grutter v. Bollinger,
the 2003 case that upheld the University of Michigan Law
School’s limited use of race in its admission policies to increase
diversity. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that racial diversity
in higher education was a “compelling governmental interest.”
APA’s brief specifically provides the court with relevant
research from 79 peer-reviewed studies — most of which
have been conducted since Grutter. Some of these new studies
show that an underrepresentation of minority groups inhibits
students’ academic performance and cognitive function and
fosters prejudice. The brief also cited research findings that
subconscious racial bias interferes with the education of
“A major body of work … shows that concerns about being
negatively stereotyped in a given context lead to disruptive
apprehension and subsequently poorer performance,” says
James M. Jones, PhD, director of the University of Delaware’s
Center for the Study of Diversity, who worked on the APA brief.
“Underrepresentation exacerbates those feelings and erodes a
sense of belonging.”
The Supreme Court heard Fisher v. University of Texas at
Austin in October and is expected to rule by summer.
APA filed briefs in three U.S. Circuit Courts challenging the
constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act,
which defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and
one woman as husband and wife.” DOMA requires the federal
government to disregard same-sex marriages that are valid
under state law and denies same-sex spouses the federal benefits
granted to opposite-sex spouses.
APA filed its most recent amicus brief on the DOMA
provisions in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management. In this
case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco
denied Karen Golinski health benefits for her same-sex spouse,
who had been her partner for 20 years before marrying when
marriage for same-sex couples was legalized in California. The
court cited the Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996, as
requiring this denial of federal benefits that are available to
heterosexual California couples.
In its brief, APA cited psychological research that bolsters its
position that same-sex couples should be entitled to the same
benefits as opposite-sex couples. Homosexuality, APA says, is a
normal expression of human sexuality, is generally not chosen
and is highly resistant to change.
The brief also discussed research on the nature of same-sex relationships, the role of child-rearing and the stigma that
results from denying the use of the term “marriage” to same-sex unions. For example, the brief cited psychological research
showing that same-sex parents are not any less fit or capable
than heterosexual parents, and that their children are as well-adjusted as other children.
The Defense of Marriage Act makes the judgment that
same-sex couples are “less deserving of a society’s full
recognition than are heterosexual couples by linking benefits to
its exclusive definition of marriage,” says Clinton W. Anderson,
PhD, who directs APA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
On Oct. 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in a 2–1 ruling. n