Cited by the Supreme Court: Oh, the Indignity and Humiliation of It!

By Scott Burris

A law professor is usually thrilled to have an article cited by the Supreme Court.  An empirical researcher will, likewise, be pleased that evidence he or she helped create shapes a decision of the highest court of the land.  But maybe not always.

Today I learned that the Supreme Court cited a study of mine in a major opinion. OK, it was the Supreme Court of Canada, but still.  The case, which deals with the criminalization of HIV, is pretty interesting and important.  The unimportant part has to do with the impact of my work on the decision:

 Some interveners challenge the use of the criminal law in the case of HIV on the ground that it may deter people from seeking treatment or disclosing their condition, thereby increasing the health risk to the carrier and those he has sex with.  On the record before us, I cannot accept this argument.  The only “evidence” was studies presented by interveners suggesting that criminalization “probably” acts as a deterrent to HIV testing: see e.g. M.A. Wainberg, “Criminalizing HIV transmission may be a mistake” (2009), 180 C.M.A.J. 688.  Other studies suggest little difference in reporting rates in states that criminalized and did not criminalize behaviour:  S. Burris, et al., “Do Criminal Laws Influence HIV Risk Behavior?  An Empirical Trial” (2007), 39 Ariz. St. L.J. 467, at p. 501.  The conclusions in these studies are tentative, and the studies were not placed in evidence and not tested by cross-examination.  They fail to provide an adequate basis to justify judicial reversal of the accepted place of the criminal law in this domain.

The Court is right, but maybe it could have gone without saying — or citing?

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