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Supreme Court Rules Parents Trump Grandparents in Major Child Decisions

Aired June 5, 2000 - 1:05 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In Washington today, the highest court in the land said no means no when it comes to the visitation rights of grandparents .

CNN's Charles Bierbauer joins us now with a split decision at the court that could effect millions of divided families, here's Charles.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it could in the extreme, but in the narrow case that was brought before the court from the state of Washington where a pair of grandparents sued the mother of two young girls for greater visitation rights. This is a complicated case in which the father of the two girls had died, the mother subsequently remarried. The children were then adopted by the stepfather and the grandparents basically said: We want to see them more, we to see them two weekends a month and two weeks in the summer. And the mother said that's too much.

And the Supreme Court agreed with the mother, just as Sandra Day O'Connor, writing one of several opinions in this case said: the presum -- there's a presumption that fit parents act in their children's best interest and there was no question about the fitness of the mother in this particular case.

Washington state had the broadest visitation rights law in the country. It said that any person at any time could petition for visitation rights. The Washington state supreme court struck that down and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed, that in this case, the parents have the priority over the grandparents. It will only apply in other states that may come close to having a similar law, but the justices did take note of the fact that the American family is changing, with extended families, and blended families and courts need to be aware of that.

Webster Hubbell is probably a happy guy today, he was the former justice department official, former presidential golfing partner who was indicted by the independent counsel on tax evasion charges. In the process Mr. Hubbell was required to handover tax documents and what the court said, that violates the 5th Amendment. And so the tax evasion indictment against Mr. Hubbell has to be dismissed.

And a case that the Supreme Court denied in appeal today, it basically said that it would not get into an issue involving phone companies and their ability to use data gotten from their customers. This was an appeal to try and reinstate some FCC rulings, which would have required phone companies to get permission before using the data or reselling the data the court did not want to get into that one. It may come back at another form at another day, but not this day.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, live from the Supreme Court.

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