In a ruling that former governor Bill Clinton might not have a problem with, the Arkansas Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision on Thursday, overturned a state law that made it illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student under the age of twenty-one. The court sided with a very relieved David Paschal, the thirty-eight-year-old Elkins High School history and psychology teacher who was serving a thirty-year sentence for having a five-month consensual sexual relationship with an eighteen-year-old student. As a result, Paschal will have his convictions reversed and dismissed.
Chief Justice Jim Hannah wrote:
"Regardless of how we feel abut Paschal's conduct, which could correctly be referred to as reprehensible, we cannot abandon our duty to uphold the rule of law when a case presents distasteful facts."
Attorneys representing the state made the argument that the law "protects" high-school students from the sexual advances of teachers, who may be abusing their authority. But the court found the law to be unconstitutional, because it made a crime out of consensual adults hooking up.
One of the dissenting Justices, Robert Brown — no fan of cougars and dingos — wrote, "This will cause significant disruption in our high schools and have a deleterious impact on education in general and the teacher-student dynamic in particular."
Paschal's attorney, Casey Copeland, said his client was "vindicated by the Supreme Court," but he did make clear that the ruling should not give a green light to teachers on the make. He said:
"I think that this case does not necessarily say a teacher can do that and keep their job. I think the loss of job and loss of teacher's license might be appropriate for that, but it's not appropriate to put someone in jail for thirty years."
I definitely agree that thirty years in the slammer for consensual sex was extreme. Legislating morality can be a slippery slope, and the inherent controversy of this issue is evidenced by the fact that less than half of U.S. states ban student-teacher sex. Matt DeCample, spokesman for Arkansas governor Mike Beebe, said, "We're reviewing the decision. It's way too early to talk about any immediate attempts at a legislative response."