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May 29th, 2008
09:26 PM ET

Texas High Court Makes the Right Call

Jami Floyd
360° Contributor, In Session Anchor

Editor's Note: Watch Jami Floyd tonight at 10pm on Anderson Cooper 360°

There is a reason two appellate courts in Texas — first a three-court panel of the state court of appeals and now the Texas Supreme Court — have ordered the return of children removed from a polygamist ranch to their mothers: It is the right thing to do.

Not as a matter of sympathy, or morality, or decency, but as a matter of constitutional law.
To be sure, the Texas Supreme Court today did not specifically find the absence of wrongdoing at the ranch — where authorities contend sexual abuse of young girls is routine. Indeed, the court acknowledged the state’s interest in protecting children from harm. But state agents cannot simply storm homes, polygamist or otherwise, to remove children without a showing of abuse. Suspicions are not enough.

It is perhaps difficult for anyone who cares about the children or their mothers (who many believe are brainwashed from birth) to understand.

But for those of us who choose to become lawyers, these are the easy cases. These are the very people our constitution is designed to protect — the least popular among us, lest they be subjected to the tyranny of the majority.

Read more of Jami Floyd's comment on the In Session blog


Filed under: In Session • Jami Floyd • Polygamy
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Mark Stewart

    I agree the high court ruling is correct (maybe slow coming). The Eldorado ruling was also correct. Our neighbours in this FLDS community in Canada and the US need a shake-up. They do not have the resource (and focus) they need to properly manage their at-risk children. Not to worry. Texas is going to afford these people with a vote to Sherrif: a good start. Hopefully relevant jurisdictions across North America will follow and step up to the plate.

    June 2, 2008 at 12:11 am |
  2. Lorayne Salas

    The jury is still out.
    Until we really know what is going on inside those walls we cannot judge.
    We must remember that not all people are alike and differences should be respected.
    If indeed these young girls are being forced to marry, then we must see what can be done to help them. But until then they should not be yanked from their homes and the only life and family they know.

    June 1, 2008 at 7:40 pm |
  3. Spider

    KarenD-

    Very interesting. I am impressed with your knowledge of the legal system and its laws.
    Now, if I may, let me show you my expertise in, gambling. I would be willing to bet you are exactly like our host here, Jami Floyd. Educated as a lawyer, prone to pointing that out at every opportunity to us laymen, but working outside of the field, in Jami's case as a legal news correspondent and an oft ignored blog writer on her own In-Session department, you, my guess as an office worker somewhere in middle America.
    Laws, us ignorant laymen feel, are written to keep our country the way the majority of it's citizens want it to be. The vast majority of us do not feel polygamy is a moral way of life, therefore should be illegal. Lawyers, even former or wanna-be lawyers, on the other hand, feel that laws are written for them to find obscure definitions in and, in course, use those definitions as loopholes to violate the actual intent of the law. This is why our legal system works so well. That was sarcasm, KarenD, straight forward, no need to try to read it any other way.

    June 1, 2008 at 12:15 pm |
  4. den

    i believe this argument is about religious differences. one group, cps, or one person wanting to force their beliefs on another.
    for all the accusations, not one adult has been arrested. why remove the children who have done nothing wrong. to protect them? from someone doing something wrong? then arrest those doing something wrong. the state of texas doesn't have enough evidence to arrest anyone, then how do they have enough evidence to remove the children?

    May 31, 2008 at 1:56 am |
  5. KarenD

    "What about the picture of Warren Jeffs kissing an underage girl? "

    All that shows is that Jeffs kissed a girl, even IF they ever actually prove her age. That is it.

    May 30, 2008 at 6:52 pm |
  6. KarenD

    "i have a suggestion for Texas, they should condemn the roads at the ranch, to use “intimate domain” to take over the roads of this compound," – robert repass

    Just a heads up, but it is "eminent domain".

    May 30, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  7. Dotti E. Denman

    It's unfortunate that the children always get hurt, and carry scars for life. Their mother's are just kids who had kids. I am a woman, and feel that women and children are still just considered as property and things by many in this society - including judges - and all over the world.

    May 30, 2008 at 6:15 pm |
  8. Lilibeth

    Jami, I'm sorry, I hear your points, but I disagree with you. What about the picture of Warren Jeffs kissing an underage girl? What about Carolyn Jessop's testimonies? Aren't they proof enough?

    I'm sorry but... I believe the overriding principle involving children in any court of law should be to assure their safety and protection. The Texas High Court failed to do so in this case.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    May 30, 2008 at 4:17 pm |
  9. Kathy

    I completely agree with the court's descision. I don't agree with wha't's going on at the ranch, but CPS made a huge error in the way they handled this case. They are responsible for upholding the law, and the law was clearly not being followed when police raided the ranch. If CPS had spent more time collecting evidence and doing their duty to PROVE these kids were being abused, this case may have gone a better way and the kids may have gotten the help they needed.

    What bothered me the most about this case was that they took all the kids, when really the teenaged girls were the only ones in imminent danger of being married off. Why would you take an infant away from its mother? There was no reason to seperate the younger children if they were not at risk.

    Donna: I don't think the polygamists are in the business of stealing children. The reason they have so many is they don't use birth control, and its part of their beliefs to "go forth and multiply". From what i've read, may mothers have a dozen kids or more. Another reason that some of the DNA tests might not match up with anyone on the ranch (from what I've read) is that some of these kids may have been seperated from their birth parents by Warren Jeffs and sent to the YFZ ranch to live with others.

    May 30, 2008 at 1:24 pm |
  10. Vince in CA

    It was a polygamist compound. What do you think goes on in there? How many of those women whole heartedly wanted to be there? They consciously put their children, especially daughters, in harm. This country is horrible at protecting it's children. From child molestors to polygamists not very many people get punished sufficiently.

    May 30, 2008 at 11:44 am |
  11. Carol

    Saying that those pictures are proof of child abuse is like saying that "Narnia" is proof that lions can talk.

    Photos and film can easily be altered. The Texas authorities had nothing.

    May 30, 2008 at 11:30 am |
  12. Jeanne, San Diego

    The courts did make the right call. Of course cases of abuse should be investigated but per individual family.

    May 30, 2008 at 11:26 am |
  13. Swiss-Canadien feminist for Obama

    To Aurale Huff: Thank you for posting this. You are so right!!!!!!!

    May 30, 2008 at 10:35 am |
  14. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    This whole thing was botched from the beginning and unfortunately CPS reacted without proper cause. I hope in the future CPS doesn't have to go through this embarrassment again in their attempt to save children from abuse.

    May 30, 2008 at 9:42 am |
  15. Mike in NYC

    Bob wrote:

    "Cut off the welfare and food stamps unless the families provide through DNA who are the fathers of these children. Other fathers must provide child support why not these breeders."

    Good idea.

    A judicious application of your plan would certainly benefit our "urban areas."

    May 30, 2008 at 9:17 am |
  16. robert repass

    i have a suggestion for Texas, they should condemn the roads at the ranch, to use "intimate domain" to take over the roads of this compound, go in, pave the roads, put in side walks, road signs and the like, this would allow the police to patrol these streets, and regular citizen's could drive through. And take some land for a police sub-station and post office. a small library might be a good idea too. What about that home schooling thing, the state does test these kids don't they?

    May 30, 2008 at 7:04 am |
  17. Jean V

    If the children are in no immediate danger, then I have one question:

    Where are the BOYS?

    If there is not a 50-50 ratio of boys to girls (a normal gender ratio in a collection of 400 minor children would be pretty nearly 200 boys and 200 girls) then WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MISSING BOYS? Where are they?

    Someone in authority needs to get the answer to that question, and fast.

    May 30, 2008 at 2:08 am |
  18. Rebecca Randolph

    What bothers me about this whole fiasco is this question: are the children, and especially the young girls of the FLDS sect- and any other fringe groups who exploit the ignorance and youth of their children now to have no recourse, no one governmental or otherwise who will now stick their neck out to defend these defenseless ones?

    I'm afraid that this reversal will set a precident that will discourage governmental agencies from "interfering" with their "rights" because they have no PROOF. Unfortunately, by the time they have the PROOF they need to step in to protect these kids, the damage will already be done.

    May 30, 2008 at 1:51 am |
  19. KarenD

    Oh, and Spider, just so you know, polygamy as I described can easily be technically legal in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. To a lesser degree it can be OK in Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.

    Polygamy would technically be illegal in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin.

    May 30, 2008 at 1:49 am |
  20. Bryan Williams

    Thank You Texas for giving every child molestor the loophole they have been working for. Don't be surpised if they come running to your state now, that you will give them the protection they have been looking for. They now know all they have to do is claim to be an FLDS member, and they are home free. They will call their homes temples, and start holding church right beside elementary schools. And if they get caught with underage children they will say they were spirtually married and that makes everything a-ok.

    What's next Texas, your gonna allow them to kill virgins as sacrifices?

    What makes it even worse, is the crimes that were known to be committed, beyond a shadow of a doubt. They have these mothers that have been getting dhs or other welfare payments for being "single mothers". It is a clear case of fraud. Yet both the mothers and fathers that committed this fraud are going to be allowed to walk away from those crimes.

    IF this was you and me, and CPS came and got our children. Even if it turned out the original charges were completly false, would we be able to get our children back so easily? Espically if we couldn't prove we were the parents, or we had a job that could feed and support them? IF we cheated the government out of thousand of dollars, wouldn't we be considered criminals, and therefore unfit parents?

    Who in the Texas Supreme Court was paid off with Warren Jeff Money?

    Originally posted on amadeusmax.com, reposted here with permission.

    May 30, 2008 at 1:31 am |
  21. KarenD

    Spider asked me on another article discussion, "What state is it that says polygamy is legal, against federal law?"

    Well Spider, I hope you are able to find my answer:

    First, there is no federal law against polygamy. Marriage laws are the domain of the state, not the federal government.

    As I explained on another discussion, there are two terms to know, and they kind of have two meanings:

    The first term is "bigamy". Literally, it means two spouses or two marriages. Legally, it means more than one LEGAL marriage (where you get a marriage license register with the county/state, etc).

    The second term is "polygamy". Literally, it means multiple spouses or multiple marriages. Legally, it is vague, depending on the state. Most practitioners of polygamy will only have one legal marriage, if any, but several social or religious marriages. Unless the state has laws againt co-habitation or recognizes (and can assert on its own) common law marriages, then polgamy can be technically legal in that state.

    May 30, 2008 at 1:28 am |
  22. KarenD

    "Sex with a child is WRONG!" – Betty Ann

    The state has to PROVE that this sex occured. So far, they have not been doing real good in proving it.

    "Polygamy is illegal in Texas, regardless of your age." – Teresa

    I'd have to check Texas state law, but you might be surprised what is and is not allowed. Bigamy (more than one LEGAL marriage) is against the law, but polygamy with one legal marriage and multiple religious/social marriages may not be.

    May 30, 2008 at 1:18 am |
  23. Jerry L. Myre

    Hi Anderson,

    I think the court made the right decision. But I am tired of hearing haw these FLDS people have been mistreated. I have not forgotten Waco and how our government burned women and children to death.
    Tell these people to count there blessing. at least they had there day in court.

    May 30, 2008 at 1:10 am |
  24. Pam Moller

    I agree with you. As much as I don't agree with thier lifestyle they are still entitled to the same constitutional rights as anyone else.

    May 30, 2008 at 12:55 am |
  25. Janet Lachman

    I think if these people had been Muslims and not Mormons, the outcome would have been different. The enslaved Afghan women were handy arguments for war, but ohce we invaded Afghanistan they became back page news. The rights of women are interesting as support for other issues our male leaders care about, but female slavery right in our own country is justified as "family unification" or the "rights of parents". Of course, these parents are enslaving their daughters, but that isn't enough of an evil to merit intervention.

    I believe that the FLDS compound shields its women and children from the outside world because their dirty little secret is that they are practicing female slavery and statutory rape, and tarting it up as religionl. The girl is born a chattel, and before she has any legal rights she is forced into motherhood. From what those few who have escaped report, her compliance is bought with violence and threats against her children to "keep sweet" - the contemporary version of "stay in your place". And that place is in servitude.

    The 13th Amendment prohibits "involuntary servitude" anywhere in the US. If being forced to have sex at 13, whether you want it or not, isn't "involuntary servitude" I don't know what is.

    I have also been disappointed at the seeming slant of the coverage. Why were there no national experts who looked at the children's side, and why was James Jeffs on every segment? Why did CNN keep saying the court was going to "allow the children to return to their parents". This raises the image of children longing to return to their parents and being cruelly prevented by the state from doing so. Considering that the state does not know which children belong to which parents, evidently because of deliberate obfuscation on the part of the adults and a tendency to trade children around for disciplinary purposes (a fact that raises alarms all by itself,) and that the children were taken to protect then, not punish them, how is it less accurate to say that the children were being "required" to return to the compound?

    May 29, 2008 at 11:58 pm |
  26. anne marie Cannon

    I hope catherine is right about the "crack in the sect". I am sick about the whole thing. Ever since Tuesday when I first saw the pictures of "the prophet" deep kissing those little girls I have had a knot in my stomach. It is not about religion, its about a community of people that are illegally abusing our welfare system and engaging in unthinkable crimes against children. Our legal system is supposed to protect its citizens against these types of things. This ruling has caused me to lose even more faith in our legal system.

    May 29, 2008 at 11:44 pm |
  27. joanie gentry

    As a great grandmother who has heped raise many children I was shocked to see Texas chose "machine guns in April" to enforce their "values" on mothers and little children. Thankfully this attack on an unusual type religion envolved adults who, unlike Waco, owned zero guns.
    My heart hurts for these little ones who were taken from all they knew; especially those who were taken from their mothers just days after birth.
    I am a southern Baptist advance practice nurse who has been licensed to practice nursing since 1958. I know nothing about pologamy etc.; but I do understand life. Where we have came as a Society is very scary; especially regarding our family and children. Texas needs to look at their stats re underage mothers they have on their welfare rolls because of being an unwed child mother and family planning costs for abortions on underage girls. Please keep them honest!!!
    Keep giving us the whole picture Anderson.
    This is my first e-mail ever!!!

    May 29, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  28. Catherine

    You know when a group of people and in this case a large group of children are exposed to another world different from the one they have been living in will indefinitely affect their already abused psyche. I am going to venture out and say that a number of those children will question their FLDS lives to such an extent that they will get out. This does not mean that we can sit and wait until that happens, but even though FLDS members appear to be have "the ball on their court" there is an innevitable crack in the sect and it's only a matter of time when we will witness the end of this sect. The fact that the State made some errors in their procedures does not mean that it ends here. This is only the beginning and I can only imagine what the FLDS adults will do as soon as they get the kids back.

    I just wonder if someone was able to sneak in a camera or a bug within the compound....that would be very interesting, however, I don't know if it would be allowed to be procecuted in Texas courts.

    May 29, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  29. sny

    and what about bILLERYS PAST

    May 29, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  30. Bob

    I don't understand why the state cann't take a giant step to solving the polgany question by forcing the fathers and husbands to be financially responsible for these families. Cut off the welfare and food stamps unless the families provide through DNA who are the fathers of these children. Other fathers must provide child support why not these breeders.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:37 pm |
  31. Denny, Midland, Tx

    I want to say hi to Jamie Floyd, I have not seen you in sometime
    and I enjoy you reporting.

    Jamie and Anderson, I am a former police officer and I can truthfully said the CPS in Texas is just a notch below the gestapo. The CPS can't understand why a police officer must have the US Supereme Court in mind when we kick down doors and arrest people. I explained to a CPS Supervisor that we must have fact and circumstances beyong mere suspicion that would lead a reasonable and purdent to believe a crime has been committed or was in the process of being committed. As a police officer if we enter a persons home looking for a stolen 46 inch TV, we can go threw the
    draws in the bathroom, because the Supereme Court has rule a reasonable search would not enclude a bathroom drawer for a 46 inch TV.

    These people that want to punish the Mormans, Who is next the Catholic, Baptist, or Church of Christ. I am a Catholic and there is still people that tell lies on the Catholic Church. I can't tell you anything about the other churches. How can they tell you about me when they are only going on rumors.

    OH Well

    Denny, Midland, Texas

    May 29, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  32. Lady bug

    Why do all the sect members have the same last name?

    May 29, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  33. Teresa Sharp

    I am wondering what if anything will happen with all of the DNA testing? Does this ruling dismiss anything that the state has attempted to prove up to this point? I am just wondering if they present their findings of the DNA testing (which may be a very ugly situation) that they will be dismissed because it was not legal for the lower court to order the testing? I am from Texas, and I do not think we should pay welfare for all these Mothers if they are "spiritually married". I am concerned about the welfare of the children and Mothers, but the law is the law. Polygamy is illegal in Texas, regardless of your age.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:30 pm |
  34. txtalley

    There are some things that bother me about all this:
    Isn't it the law that all children must go to school; even home school children have to participate in testing and turning in results; There are fines for parents who do not make sure there children go to school.

    The young woman who was on last night that left .. now has a degree and her family soon followed.. stated when she had left she only had a 5th grade education. I believe she was high school age.

    Why do these people believe they are above the law ... this has nothing to do with religion. If they keep all these little girls ignorant they will never know there is a whole new world outside those walls.

    Also, they force single mothers to identify the fathers of their children in order to get state aid, food stamps, welfare.

    Do any of the file income tax returns ? If so how many children are being claimed by how many fathers?

    And the most disappointing thing to me .. as a mother of 5 girls .. how could a mother stand by and put her little girls in such a horrible situation.

    Thank you ...

    May 29, 2008 at 10:25 pm |
  35. Franky

    All I'm gonna say is that I'm not even bothering to comment or say something about this.......I think is disgusting.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:24 pm |
  36. Aurale Huff

    It's about time the courts set the Child Protective bunch back where they helong. Bush bragged he doubled adoptions in Texas. Now you can see how it is done!

    Judges can too easily overlook the truth and hear only the Almight Case Worker's recommendation. Unfortunately, case workers are human also, and can be affected by emotions instead of intelligence! Families need help in learning how to measure up to the "high standards" of our society, and yanking their kids away is not always the way to help them learn.

    A questioh: Why shoud children know who is the ruling movie star? Is that knowledge a necessity of modern youth? That was one of the "abuses" listed.

    It is a real inspiration and restoration of faith in the legal system to hear this latest ruling by our State Supreme Court.

    A. "Lee" Huff

    May 29, 2008 at 10:22 pm |
  37. Natalie Cornell

    I think the court has good points–no one wants to see children traumatized by separation from their parents. The investigation should have been done individually as I gather it now will be. Nevertheless, this ruling raises a question about pologamy-is it or is it not against the law of the land? How can the law allow these people to live with multiple wives whether they are "spiritual" or not? The law does not allow a religion, for example, to use drugs in their rituals. How can it allow these de facto pologamist marriages? And will this make those groups feel as if they are able to get around the law and other law enforcement groups to hesitate to interfere with them?

    May 29, 2008 at 10:21 pm |
  38. Donna Anne Stewart

    I have seen alot of the coverage from different media on the Texas Ranch coverage....what I wonder is why no one seems to be asking where all of these children came from. Is it not possible with all of the unsolved child abductions in North America, that some of these children, and possibly adults are abuctees? This would possibly explain the resistance of the parents to give DNA samples. It seems to me, that his would be their only realistic way of preventing too much inbreeding.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:20 pm |
  39. Laura

    These women don't even have the freedom to say what they want...that is what the women who have left the FLDS tell us. Of course these cases have to be tried case by case, I just hope there aren't too many more childen abused before we eventually get around to it in a couple of years or so....as long as the abusers (innocent mothers or sexual predators) aren't subject to the tyranny of the majority, that's the important thing of course....

    May 29, 2008 at 9:59 pm |
  40. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Jami~
    what in the. . ????
    You're kidding right?
    Didn't we see a photo of Jeffers giving a passionate kiss to a child on the LIPS???
    It's is NOT right to return these brainwashed children to their parents.
    I don't know if you have children, but as a parent I am outraged!
    Children should never have to suffer!
    Sex with a child is WRONG!

    May 29, 2008 at 9:58 pm |
  41. Cindy

    Jami,
    I totally 100% agree with you! Texas did not have the evidence to take the kids so it is only right to give them back. Their screw up!!

    May 29, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  42. Annie Kate

    Jamie

    I know you are right on the law part of this case but it still leaves a bad taste to see all these children go back to an environment where their options are marriage to older men when they are underage and cannot speak for themselves and having babies I just wish there was an effective way to protect these children.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 29, 2008 at 9:35 pm |
  43. Jacqueline

    I agree with you Jami.

    May 29, 2008 at 9:31 pm |