When Animus Matters and Sex Crime Underreporting Does Not: The Problematic Sex Offender Registry
7 University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Public Affairs 1 (2021)
36 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2021 Last revised: 27 Dec 2021
Date Written: March 30, 2021
In Romer v. Evans the Court drew a constitutional distinction between civil laws enacted for a broad public purpose that justifies "the incidental disadvantages they impose on certain persons," and laws that have "the peculiar property of imposing a broad and undifferentiated disability on a single named group". Laws of the second kind "raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected." The difficulty lies in deciding when the inference properly becomes a conclusion that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause. The more sweeping and unusual the burdens imposed on the targeted group, the more difficult it may be to discern a common policy explaining them other than the forbidden purpose of harming their targets. At some point the animus inference becomes strong enough to require scrutiny of the laws' purported rationale, including whether it has any actual basis in fact.
An astonishingly broad array of burdens are imposed today on anyone ever convicted of almost any sexual offense of any kind or seriousness, including but extending far beyond inclusion in publicized websites listing "sex offenders." No similar regime has ever been imposed on any other group of law-abiding former felons who have fully served the sentence for the crime they committed years earlier. This "registry regime" raises an inference of animus at least as strong as in any of the four cases in which the Court sustained such claims, and the explanation that the laws are justified by the clearly valid purpose of reducing the incidence of sexual offending does not survive the scrutiny of scientific studies which find the registry ineffective and often counterproductive. Nor does the fact that many sexual offenses are never reported to law enforcement authorities cast doubt on the validity of those studies or on the legal or policy analyses that employ them. Much of the registry regime must therefore fall under an Anti-Animus principle.
Keywords: sex offenders, sex offenses, collateral consequences, animus
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