Troxel v. Granville

Following is the case brief for Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000)

Case Summary of Troxel v. Granville:

  • A Washington State statute allowed any person to petition the court for visitation rights at any time, and gave the court complete authority to make a determination in the best interest of the child.
  • Petitioner grandparents sought, and the trial court granted, visitation of their grandchildren under the statute, over the object of the children’s mother.
  • The Washington Supreme Court ultimately held that the broadly worded statute is unconstitutional.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed.  It held that the statute violated due process because it interfered with the mother’s fundamental right to rear her children.

Troxel v. Granville Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

A State of Washington child visitation statute allowed any person to apply for visitation rights at any time, and a state court could order such visitation if it served the best interest of the child.  In this case, the Troxels, petititioners, applied for the right to visit their two granddaughters, who were the children of their deceased son and respondent Tommie Granville.  Granville, who was amenable to the Troxels having some visitation, opposed the amount of visitation the Troxels requested.

Procedural History:

  • After a trial, the trial court awarded the Troxels visitation in an amount greater than what Granville wanted.
  • On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order.  It held that the Troxels lacked standing to ask for visitation.
  • The Washington Supreme Court affirmed.  However, it rejected the appellate court’s standing rationale, and held that the Washington visitation statute was unconstitutional because it infringed on a parents’ right to rear their children.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Is a statute that allows any person to ask for child visitation rights, over the objection of the child’s parents, an infringement on the fundamental right of parents to rear their children?  Yes.

Judgment:

The judgment of the Washington Supreme Court is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A law giving any person the right to seek child visitation over the objection of the child’s parents is an infringement on the fundamental right of parents over the care, custody, and control of their children.

Reasoning:

The fundamental right parents have to rear their children emanates from the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.  In this case, the Washington statute is exceptionally broad.  It allows any person at any time to seek the right to visitation.  Further, any person could obtain that right based only on a court determination, without giving any deference to the child’s parents. Given that the law presumes that a fit parent acts in the best interest of the child, the Washington statute violates due process.

Because this case rests on the improperly broad sweep of the statute, and its application, there is no need to decide whether (i) due process requires a showing of potential harm to the child before awarding visitation, or (ii) the scope of the parental rights in the visitation context.  The case ends here.  There is no need to remand for further proceedings because the court’s visitation order clearly violates the Constitution.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring Opinion (Souter):

The Washington Supreme Court found the visitation statute unconstitutional.  That holding should simply be affirmed with no further inquiry into the parameters of due process.

Concurring Opinion (Thomas):

The Court fails to identify the appropriate standard of review.  For an infringement on a fundamental right, strict scrutiny should be used.

Dissenting Opinion (Stevens):

The Court would have been wiser not to hear this case.  Because the Washington statute is unique, there is no pressing need to review it.  But, since the Court did address the merits, the Court should have directly addressed why the statute is facially invalid, and remanded for further proceedings.

Significance:

Troxel v. Granville emphasizes the special deference courts should give to parents’ fundamental right to raise their children.  It, therefore, served to slow down the proliferation of child visitation statutes that reflect the changing nature of the nuclear family in today’s society.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/530/57/case.html

https://www.oyez.org/cases/1999/99-138

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