Supreme Court Strikes Down Grandparents'' Visitation

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Monday's Supreme Court ruling is a big disappointment for grandparents fighting for the right to visit their grandchildren in cases where the children's parents object to the visits. In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with a lower court, which struck down a Washington state law. That law would have given grandparents (or other adults) visitation rights if a judge ruled it would be in the child's "best interests."

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the court, said the Washington law was "breathtakingly broad" and violated the Constitution. "So long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children ... there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent's children," O'Connor wrote.

In reaction, the Family Research Council, based in Washington, DC, said that the Supreme Court, with its decision Monday, reaffirmed that parental rights are fundamental and constitutionally protected.

"This is a major victory for parents," said Jan LaRue, Senior Director of Legal Studies for the Family Research Council.

At issue in this particular case before the Supreme Court, Troxel vs Granville, is a Washington state law that allowed any third party at any time to seek visitation with a child.

In 1998, the law was struck down by the Washington Supreme Court. On Monday, the Supreme Court in Washington, DC upheld that decision.

"We agree with Justice Souter that the Supreme Court should have affirmed the Washington Supreme Court's decision that the law was unconstitutional 'on its face,' and not just as applied," LaRue said. "Parental rights are a fundamental constitutional right and deserve the utmost protection in the law."

"Nevertheless, we are very gratified that the Court reaffirmed the fundamental rights of parents in the care, custody, and upbringing of their children, including who is permitted to spend time with them, LaRue added. "The Washington law is so broad that it doesn't even make outsiders prove their importance in the child's life, but shifts the burden to parents to prove to a judge why someone should not have visitation rights to their child."

LaRue concluded by saying, "Grandparents do play an important role in the life of their grandchildren. We sympathize with their efforts to keep in touch with their children's children. However, this law was bad for children and families. The Supreme Court has done the right thing."

(ED's NOTE: Morning Editor Susan Jones was a contributor to writing this story.)