Child Rights Project

The Child Rights Project trains students to advocate for the interests of children and youth in cases coming before the Supreme Court of the United States. Its mission is to seek out cases in which children’s rights may be overlooked. The Child Rights Project is directed by L.Q.C. Lamar Professor Barbara Bennett Woodhouse. Its first project was writing an amicus brief on the Affordable Care Act in the 2011 term. In the 2012 term it coauthored briefs providing the voices of LGBTQ youth in the two marriage equality cases and advocating for children's rights in an Indian Child Welfare Act adoption case.

In OT 2011 the Child Rights Project filed an amicus brief in partnership with the firm of Bondurant, Mixon and Elmore to highlight the adverse impact on children of a finding that Congress, in enacting the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obama Care,” exceeded its proper powers under the Constitution. While much attention had been focused on the interests of adults, the adverse consequences that striking down the Affordable Care Act would impose on infants, chronically ill children, and youth in foster care had not been fully briefed in prior submissions. Students researched the act and data relating to children’s health and drafted a brief explaining the devastating effects of a finding that Congress lacked the power to address children’s health needs on a national scale.

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In OT 2012, the Child Rights Project filed briefs in three different cases. Two of these cases  are collectively known as the “marriage equality cases.” In the first case, U.S. v. Windsor , a surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage that was valid under New York state law challenged the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prevented a surviving same-sex spouse from receiving the same favorable tax treatment accorded to opposite-sex spouses. The second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, involved the constitutionality of California’s Prop 8, which prohibited marriages between individuals of the same sex. The Child Rights Project partnered with the firm Bryan Cave and with other child and family advocacy groups to provide the Court with a “Youth Voices” brief giving the perspectives of children growing up in families headed by same-sex couples and the perspectives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth who would be adversely affected by a decision that discriminated against their current and future families. In the course of their research, students conducted a survey of LGBTQ youth perspectives that provided additional evidence of the importance of marriage equality to this especially vulnerable group of young people.

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Read the study »

In Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, Birth Father and Cherokee Nation, the Child Rights Project, in partnership with the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, authored a brief articulating the right of every child to due consideration of his or her best interests in key decisions about protection of their family relationships. The brief urged the Court to interpret the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) so that courts adjudicating an adoption dispute could accord due weight to Native American children’s interests in maintaining relationships with adoptive or foster parents to whom they have become attached, in addition to weighing their interests in connections to biological family and Native American tribes. 

Read the brief »

Opportunities for Students

Child Rights Project student team

L-R, back row: Audrey Biggerstaff, Lauren McAuley, Rachel Belcher. Front row: Robert Chan and Amanda Siefman.

The CRP provides opportunities for skills training and for building professional relationships. Working in teams that include major child advocacy organizations and prestigious law firms, students gain insights into the world of public interest lawyering and into big firm pro bono litigation practice. 

Students gain experience through the following measures:

  • Readings on the art of brief writing, effective writing of friend of the court briefs, and the role of impact litigation in advancing social justice movements
  • Researching and drafting briefs
  • Researching pending cases
  • Reading cert petitions to identify cases where children’s voices are not being adequately heard
  • Assisting in responding to requests for pro bono briefs from outside parties