Chad v. Becky, __ U.S. __ (2013)
JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioners in this case, nice guys of various ages and walks of life, seek writs of habeas corpus against respondent prospective girlfriends. Petitioners allege that respondents have imprisoned them in the “friendzone,” a prison not of steel bars or concrete walls, but of the heart.
Each of the petitioners has invested substantial amount of time in being nice to a member of the opposite sex, i.e. respondents, with the reasonable expectation that these interactions would lead to a romantic relationship and/or sexual intercourse. Some of the petitioners have spent literally hours with respondents in group hang-outs, eating dinner with respondents, watching television shows respondents like and claiming to enjoy them, and, most importantly, not saying or doing mean things to respondents. Nevertheless, all of these men have been sentenced to the friendzone. Further, these sentences were imposed without due process or any process at all; respondents have not entertained in good faith what great guys petitioners are and therefore what great boyfriends they would be, nor have respondents given sufficient consideration to the likelihood that they will develop feelings for petitioners over time if respondents just give petitioners a chance.
Against such a charge of injustice, respondents do not assert any legal basis for imprisoning the petitioners. Instead, respondents argue two points: petitioners should have taken affirmative steps to avoid the friendzone, and the friendzone does not in fact amount to imprisonment. Respondents’ contention that petitioners “should have just said something” before they became so invested in the idea of a romantic relationship that friendship amounted to a prison is inconsistent with our Constitution. See also Brief for Respondents (“Wait, what?”). There is no greater imposition on the liberty guaranteed under the 14th Amendment than to obligate a man to undertake the risks of rejection and embarrassment inherent in articulating his feelings to the object of his affection. Further, it is unclear what purpose respondents expect such communication to serve when any reasonable observer would conclude from the fact that a man is interacting with a non-relative woman that his intentions and expectations are romantic.
Respondents’ second point is echoed by amici’s suggestion that petitioners engage in self help by “just leav[ing] her alone and mov[ing] on.” This is an inadequate remedy for petitioners who have given so much of themselves, sometimes even listening to respondents complain about ex-boyfriends, to the prospect of a romantic relationship. At this point, petitioners cannot walk away from this de facto prison anymore than federal prisoners can walk through concrete walls.
Respondents are ordered to go on dates with petitioners consistent with this opinion.
JUSTICE SCALIA, concurring.
I concur in the opinion of the Court and write separately only to respond to the contention of the dissenters that even were they to accept the Court’s conclusion, some of the petitioners should not be included in the order because they cannot properly be considered to have been “friendzoned.” Specifically, they argue that in those cases where one or both parties are married to third parties and/or the two parties work together cannot give rise to the reliance interest in a romantic relationship that entraps the man in the “friendzone.”
As an originalist, even I can see the implications of marriage in our era have changed from when marriage meant someone was strictly “off-limits.” Many marriages today end in divorce, especially marriages where one or both members has a stressful career, like serving on the highest court in the land or being a tax law expert. Under these circumstances, engaging in outings with a member of the opposite sex, such as a romantic evenings at the opera, would cause a rational observer to expect the relationship to progress in a romantic way notwithstanding any spousal complications.
Similarly, many relationships today start in the workplace, especially amongst busy professionals, so the fact that two members of the opposite sex happen to work together cannot defeat the presumption that heterosexual hanging out is a preface to dating. In fact, working together can be conducive to romantic compatibility as it indicates shared interests and experiences, e.g. in adjudicating constitutional disputes. Even where the parties may have a somewhat contentious relationships in the workplace—say one represented NOW and the other thinks constitutional rights should be frozen at a time when women were basically property—such pre-relationship disagreement, as romantic comedies tell us, are indicative of the passion and healthy ability disagree that sustain lasting and meaningful relationships.
* * *
JUSTICE GINSBURG, with whom JUSTICE KAGAN and JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR join, dissenting.
Cultural Literacy and the Law is a humor column written by an anonymous Harvard Law student.
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