I took some students to hear the Maine Supreme Judicial Court oral arguments yesterday. We caught some of Jackson v. North East Insurance and then stayed for the real target of our visit, Nolan v. Labree et al., a case where the court was asked to determine whether district courts could rule that the names of the surrogate gestational carrier and her husband be removed from a child’s birth certificate and replaced by those of the “biological parents” (who provided the fertilized embryo and will be raising the child.) It was a really interesting case, needless to say, and particularly so because there was no conflict between the parties to the case. The biological parents and the gestational carrier both agreed to the change in birth certificate — and to the implied legal change, which is that the gestational carrier bears absolutely no relationship to this child.
The case was mainly a precedent-setting opportunity for the court, one that they’re taking because apparently there has been some real diversity across lower-court rulings so it makes sense for the Law Court to make a final ruling in this area of law. It was a nice illustration of one of the classic areas of responsibility for a state’s highest court — the need to clarify legal ambiguities which arise because of changes in society or technology. And although I am sure there are some people who thrill to the details of insurance law, you could not have traveled further from the mundane to the sublime across the two sets of oral arguments we witnessed. In Nolan, we watched the court wrestle, think out loud, accept the weight of the philosophical decision they were charged with making. What is biological motherhood? And how does it relate to our broader social and legal conceptions of that status? Afterward, my students and I pondered the role of sex in their decision-making process, wondering whether the experience of having been pregnant yourself, or the prospect that you yourself could be pregnant, played a role in the way that the justices would weigh the issues at stake.
All in all, such an exceptional opportunity to see philosophy in action. For the many of us who can’t always make it to Portland or Bangor, I’m so happy that the Court has decided to live-stream oral arguments. Another excellent initative by the Saufley-led court! (Do you think the Chief Justice knows what a large fan club she has?)
(Credit where credit is due: link to the BDN article courtesy of the always on-top-of-it Amy Sylvester.)