Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Schedules Merits Hearing on Jessica Gonzales v. U.S.
Thursday, October 2, 2008 12:01 PM

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has agreed to a hearing on the merits of the Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzalez) case.  One of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ duties is to hear cases of human rights abuses by Organization of Americas (OAS) member states, which includes the U.S.  The upcoming merits hearing could involve “the rights to life, non-discrimination, family life/unity, due process, petition the government, and the rights of domestic violence victims and their children to special protections.”

Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzalez), a domestic violence survivor in the U.S., claims that her human rights were violated in 1999 by local police who ignored her calls for help when her husband violated a restraining order. He kidnapped and murdered their three children. Her suit against the Castle Rock, Colorado, Police Department, ultimately failed in 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court held she had no constitutional right to have the Police Department enforce her restraining order. Later that year, Lenahan filed suit at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which held a hearing on the case in 2007. In a landmark decision on 5 October 2007, the Commission held it was admissible because Lenahan had exhausted all U.S. legal remedies and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man required the U.S. to protect domestic violence victims from private acts of violence.

The merits hearing will be held on the afternoon of 22 October 2008 at the Commission in Washington, D.C., U.S. Lenahan’s legal team consists of lawyers from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union; the State Department will represent the U.S.  A webcast of the hearing will be posted after the hearing.

Links to relevant documents:

Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 125 S.Ct. 2796 (2005).  No link (unpublished).

Jessica Gonzalez and Others v. United States, Report No. 52/07, Petition for Admissibility 1490-05, (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 24 July 2007).

Merits hearing documents: Gonzalez brief (PDF), Amicus briefs (six pending; please contact Caroline Bettinger-López  [] and Araceli Martinez-Olguin [] if you or your organization are interested in signing).

Compiled from:

Columbia Law School, Human Rights Clinic, “Case Examples: Jessica Gonzalez v. United States of America” (accessed 2 October 2008).

Coyle, Marcia, Rights Panel to Hear U.S. Domestic Violence Case, National Law Journal, (15 October 2007).  PDF, HTML.