Harry's Law tonight (January 4, 2012) examines two issues, the right of the consumer to buy what she wants versus the right of the jurisdiction to ban or control the sale of products, and the inevitable problem that arises when a family adopts a child from abroad whose parents have not actually released it for adoption.
The first issue allows Harry (Kathy Bates) to take a position one might assume she normally wouldn't take: a position that looks libertarian. She rents a non-US made vehicle in preparation for a vacation and discovers that she is in violation of a city ordinance that prohibits purchase of non-US made vehicles; the policy is intended to give a boost to the US economy. During the trial, she and the opposing attorney discuss the Commerce Clause, one of the only, if not the only time, I've ever heard the Commerce Clause discussed on a tv show. Later, she and the mayor of the town discuss the economic and policy implications of a "Buy American" ordinance. He's for it, of course: "If I buy a Ford," he says, "I get the car," and the money stays in the US. But if one buys a foreign car, the money goes abroad--simple. No, says Harry, the economics of trade isn't so simple. If other countries do the same thing, the US economy could very well flat-line. And what happens to Apple? Apple employs a lot of people in China, but sells a lot of products here in the US. What happens to Toyota? Toyota is a Japanese company, but it makes a lot of cars here in the US. Eventually, Harry explains her position to her colleague. She and her father had been denied admittance to a private club when she was young because they were Jewish, and her father had told her, "America's not supposed to be like that." Interestingly, she takes exactly the same position as the club with regard to her choice of vehicle. If the club can choose its members, she can choose her vehicle.
The judge rules in favor of Harry, saying that although he doesn't particularly like her position, he agrees that both the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause require that consumers be allowed to express themselves in the marketplace and that Congress, not local jurisdictions, make decisions about trade policy.
The second issue is a heartbreaker. A black couple adopts an Asian child, believing her to be an orphan. As it turns out, her Chinese parents were forced to give her up under the "one-child policy," and have been searching for her for four years. The little girl still remembers her biological parents (somehow I have trouble believing that she has memories from the time she was two years old) but she loves her adoptive parents and sister, and they love her. Her biological parents ache to have her back. What I found distinctly odd about the interview the family court judge conducts with the little girl is that the judicial chambers are cluttered not just with lawyers, but with parents--two sets. Why are the parents there? How does the judge think she'll get the little girl's true feelings out of her with the parents there? The scene doesn't actually mean much--the little girl says very little, anyway, so what's the point, except to show that the judge cares about the little girl. Judges in real life don't allow parents into these kinds of interviews. See http://courts.michigan.gov/scao/resources/publications/manuals/focb/custodyguideline.pdf.
The little girl invites her biological parents to a school choir performance and they go. They see how happy she is among her friends but when they return to the courtroom the next day, they still understandably want custody. So, of course, do the adoptive parents. The attorney for the biological parents makes the point that the Hague convention is intended to prevent such horrors as this one, in which unsuspecting individuals adopt a child who has been seized and taken across national borders. The opposing attorney points out that the issue is not the parents, but the best interests of the child. The judge, who is African-American, reveals that she is an adoptee--her parents were Caucasian, but she is also a mother. She awards custody to the adoptive parents, with visitation to the biological parents, who are crushed.
I understand the judge's decision in "dramatic" terms. It has the merit of demonstrating a commitment to transracial adoption and liberal thought as well as addressing the reaction that some viewers might haved have to the notion that to return the little girl to her parents and thus to a life in China would be "wrong" because it would mean she would grow up in a country which explicitly rejects principles that the US adopts. But I don't understand how the judge's decision would work in practical terms. How are the biological parents to make use of their "liberal visitation"? Unless they stay in the geographical area, or plan to return to the US frequently, assuming they have money, when will they see her? Further, one of their expressed concerns is that she know her culture and language? Will the adoptive family make an effort to give her language lessons, for example? Languages are best learned young. And the attorney for the biological parents (who is one of Harry's partners) makes a good point: if a US child had been taken from the US and adopted abroad in similar circumstances, we would be outraged. See the Sean Goldman case (http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/05/09/tinton-falls-dad-david-goldman-fighting-for-parents-of-abducted-children/).
I haven't been following the series Harry's Law for a while. I had started watching it when it first aired but stopped, finding it just a little too weird. But it seems to have found its footing, and developed both a core of characters and that predictable David E. Kelley whimsy. Things are looking up.