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High Court Bolsters Rights of Parents at Cost of Two Grandparents

Aired June 5, 2000 - 2:01 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 a split decision, the United States Supreme Court today strongly reduced government's power to get between children and their parents on issues of visitation.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer is at the Supreme Court with the story -- Charles.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor delivering the opinion for the court said that justices had as much trouble agreeing on this issue as did the parent and grandparents involved in the case out in Washington state had difficulty agreeing on visitation rights with two granddaughters. That's where the case started.

What the judges ruled was in -- again in Justice O'Connor's words was that there is a presumption that fit parents act in the child's best interest. The grandparents had sued for greater visitation rights and under a Washington state law which allowed anyone to sue at any time. In fact, that law had been struck down by the Washington state Supreme Court and the justices here agreed; it was unconstitutional and much too broadly written.

The impact is that the law stays unconstitutional in Washington state and the court here has sent a strong signal to any other state that might have a similar law, although Washington's was probably as broad as they get. The ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, has commented on this to say that it's a narrow ruling, but that the justices did seem to understand that the nature of the American family is changing.

Indeed, six of the justices are themselves grandparents, they split three and three on this. Among the dissenters: Justice Stevens, a grandparent, said the rights of the child must be considered too; and Justice Kennedy said, perhaps the family courts who see this stuff all the time are best suited to it. I wouldn't make too much, though, of the split among the grandparents because as the attorney for the mother in this particular case, put it when the case was argued, she said: after all, these grandparents were parents first.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, reporting live from the Supreme Court.

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