October 31, 2009


Suk, Jeanie, At Home in the Law: How the Domestic Violence Revolution is transforming Privacy (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2009) (“Legal doctrine, practice, and discourse are coalescing around the notion of the home as a place of subordination that portends abuse. This developing common sense of legal actors increasingly constructs the way the law conceives of intimacy as well as the relationship between the state and private space, in surprising ways. Legal reasoning increasingly reflects the hardening and generalizing of the home-as-violence idea, with some unexpected consequences. Legal practices make public and private more legally similar spaces than they have been in the past, even as the discourse of home abounds.” “I present interpretations of the values and ideals that are at work when the law deploys the concept of home. I demonstrate the remarkable practical (not just theoretical) advance of feminist critique in the law, and I do not shrink from identifying its real-world consequences. These include not only the protection of some women but also in substantial reductions in the autonomy of women and men vis-à-vis the state—particularly in racial and economic communities already subject to disproportionate state control. The time is ripe to question seriously whether these developments advance women’s interests. While most will certainly agree with reforms that today aim to ensure that criminal punishment of violence does not stop at the door of the home, perhaps upon a closer examination many will also find that persistent logical (though not inexorable) extensions of ideas motivating those reforms have begun to create a legal reality that seems in some ways untenable and incompatible with valuable autonomy, privacy, and even security.” Id. at 6-7. There is little real meat in this short book, though it provides the emerging left-of-center perspective and synthesis of the case law to support its thesis. It is vulnerable to the libertarian critique: ‘What did you expect? If you give the state more power by extending its reach into the home, did you really think that reach would be exercised in a manner without substantial costs to women (and men) of their autonomy? Even a home, a women who gives up a little freedom for greater domestic security may well end up with neither. Which is not to say that women were better off before than they are now.’).