Professor Elizabeth Scott’s Restatement on Children and the Law Approved by American Law Institute

Launched in 2015, the restatement is the first to comprehensively examine the legal regulation of children.

Blonde woman and brown haired woman smiling

Professor of Law Clare Huntington ’96 (left) and Harold R. Medina Professor Emerita of Law Elizabeth Scott (right) at a 2023 ALI event in Scott's honor. 

At its annual meeting on May 22, the American Law Institute (ALI) approved the Restatement of the Law, Children and the Law, a project led by Elizabeth Scott, Harold R. Medina Professor Emerita of Law, a pioneering scholar on children and the legal system. Professor of Law Clare Huntington ’96 served as an associate reporter. 

The restatement covers issues such as parental rights and state intervention in cases of abuse and neglect; the rights of students and the limits of state authority in public schools; the rights and special protections of youth in both the juvenile and criminal justice systems, from police contact to dispositions and sentencing; and children as legal persons, covering free-speech rights and the authority of minors to consent to certain medical decisions, among other things.

“The law’s treatment of children has become very complex over the past several decades and has been in need of clarification,” Scott said. “The challenge we faced … was to find coherence in this evolving area of law and to capture beneficial law reform.” 

While jurisdictions vary in their treatment of some areas of law, Scott said that she and her fellow reporters found a commonality that unifies the legal treatment of children: “Across the legal landscape, modern courts aim to promote child well-being,” she said. “In pursuing this goal, modern courts increasingly turn to developmental science and other empirical research on children and families and on the parent-child relationship. This restatement follows this trend, which has contributed to positive reforms, particularly in the realm of youth justice but in other areas as well.”

Group of eight men and women in business attire all facing camera.
Left to right: ALI Director Diane P. Wood; ALI Council Member and project Chair Troy A. McKenzie, Dean of New York University School of Law; Project Reporters Richard J. Bonnie of the University of Virginia School of Law, Solangel Maldonado of Seton Hall University School of Law, Elizabeth Scott of Columbia Law School, Emily Buss of the University of Chicago Law School, and Clare Huntington ’96 of Columbia Law School; and ALI President David F. Levi

An important goal of the restatement was “to capture the law’s protection of children while incorporating its recognition that children are legal persons, whose well-being sometimes is advanced by having the legal rights of adults,” said Scott.

The restatement is organized into four parts—Children in Families, Children in Schools, Children in the Justice System, and Children in Society—to create an easily navigable resource for lawyers and judges as well as social workers, school administrators, and other child advocates looking for guidance on developments in these areas.

“One hope for the restatement is that it grounds potentially contentious debates in the common sense, empirically driven rules that we uncovered,” said Huntington. “Family law is increasingly a site of political contestation, but courts across the country are seeking to promote child well-being, even if, in some instances, this is more of an aspiration than a reality.”

ALI and Columbia Law School

The American Law Institute is an independent nonprofit organization “producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law,” according to the group’s website. The ALI’s Restatements of the Law are primarily addressed to courts. They reflect the law as it presently stands or might appropriately be stated by a court. Principles of Law are aimed mainly at legislatures and administrative agencies. Principles may suggest best practices for these institutions.

Patricia D. and R. Paul Yetter Professor of Law Kate Andrias was elected a member of the ALI in September 2023. George A. Bermann, Walter Gellhorn Professor of Law and Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law, is an associate reporter on the third restatement on Conflict of Laws. Richard Briffault, Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation, was chief reporter for the ALI’s Principles of the Law, Government Ethics, approved at the ALI’s annual meeting in May 2023. Thomas W. Merrill, Charles Evans Hughes Professor of Law, is an associate reporter on the ALI’s fourth restatement of property law, currently underway.