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Troxel v. Granville

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioners, the grandparents of Isabelle Troxel and Natalie Troxel (Petitioners), sued their mother, the Respondent, Tommie Granville (Respondent), for visitation rights, under a Washington statute that allows any individual to sue for visitation rights.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The interest of parents in the “care, custody, and control of their children” is a fundamental right that the State may not abridge without a compelling interest.

    Facts. The Respondent and Brad Troxel (Mr. Troxel) had a relationship that lasted some years and produced two daughters, but the couple never married. Two years after they separated, Mr. Troxel committed suicide. In the time between their separation and his suicide, Mr. Troxel often brought Isabelle Troxel and Natalie Troxel to his parents’ house. After Mr. Troxel’s suicide, his parents wanted to continue to have a relationship with their granddaughters. However, the Respondent’s opinion of appropriate visitation times and durations differed from the grandparents’. So, under the Washington statute authorizing suit for visitation rights by any party, the grandparents asked for a judicial determination in the best interest of the children.

    Issue. Does the Washington statute interfere unnecessarily with parental control over the raising of children?

    Held. Yes. Supreme Court of Washington ruling affirmed.
    Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) reiterated that the raising of a child is one of the most fundamental of all protected liberties. Because of this, the state must prove the existence of a compelling interest for the statute.
    J. O’Connor points out two important issues: (1) the statute does not require the court to afford any special weight to the parent’s decisions regarding the child and (2) there is no determination that the parent is an unfit guardian. This latter point is most important, as there is a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children. Because of this, when the trial court reviewed the suit it gave no special consideration to the Respondent’s concept of the best interest of her children.

    Dissent.
    Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) believes the case should have been denied certiorari, as the Washington Supreme Court struck down the statute itself.
    Justice Antonin Scalia (J. Scalia) argues that the Court should not be deciding questions of family law, but rather the legislature.
    Justice Anthony Kennedy (J. Kennedy) believes that the best interest of the child standard required by the statute provides the necessary protection to the parent’s constitutional rights.
    Concurrence.
    Justice David Souter (J. Souter) argues that the statute is facially unconstitutional as it too broadly allows anyone to sue for visitation rights at any time.
    Justice Clarence Thomas (J. Thomas) states that he would affirm the lower court ruling on the basis that Washington has no compelling interest in second-guessing a fit parent’s decision on visitation of third parties.

    Discussion. The plurality does not address the facial constitutionality of the statute, but that the statute is unconstitutional when applied to the situation of the Respondent and her children. The greatest difference between the plurality and the concurrences lies in whether or not the facial issue is reached.


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