« Noticing federal prison flow from "Federal Justice Statistics, 2017-2018" | Main | "What is Life?" podcast gives voice to people serving LWOP in Pennsylvania »

April 7, 2021

"When Animus Matters and Sex Offense Underreporting Does Not: The Sex Offender Registry Regime"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Ira Mark Ellman now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

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 may be 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 their simple 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 as strong an inference of animus as there was in any of the four cases in which the Court sustained such claims, and the claim that it is 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 any doubt on the validity of those studies or on the legal or policy analyses relying on them.  Much of the registry regime must therefore fall under an Anti-Animus principle.

April 7, 2021 at 04:29 PM | Permalink


Law abiding former felons should organize themselves like the Black Lives Matter, human rights activists in Eastern Europe who opposed the secret police, and other activists have done by engaging in civil disobedience against these registry laws. Civil disobedience is a more effective tool than violent attempts to defy tyranny.

Posted by: William Delzell | Apr 8, 2021 8:09:42 AM

The "underreporting" argument is as intellectually bankrupt as it can be having become the hysterics' favored go-to claim when they have lost all others. As if "underreporting" does not also conform to the vanishingly low statistics they can no longer dispute.

Great piece, Ira! Thanks!

Posted by: David Kennerly | Apr 9, 2021 9:30:44 AM

Mr. Dalzell, while I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts, there are other factors to consider. For example, civil disobedience, such as protesting by not registering, will only result in, when captured, a substantial fine, and/or, jail time for the offender.

Posted by: Oswaldo | May 4, 2021 3:55:08 PM

It is difficult for judges to consider anti-animus or any of the other, valid cases brought against sex offender laws when these laws are considered civil and non-punitive. As long as lawmakers aren't out to punish anyone, that their purpose to is to protect children, judges say their hands are tide. Judges also say that it is not their job to judge whether a law is effective or not but only if it is constitutional and so far the overwhelming majority say that they are. We must focus in on the reasoning behind a judge actually believing that being labeled a "sex offender" for the rest of ones' life is not punishment; that a Scarlet Letter is really perfectly fine and legal. The "animus," it seems lies with the justices themselves.

Posted by: rpsabq | Mar 6, 2022 1:19:31 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB