- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2000

In 1994, Washington state passed a law authorizing the courts, on behalf of any person, to order visiting privileges with a child against the wishes of his parents. This statute, which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor aptly criticized as being "breathtakingly broad," was the basis of a Washington judge's decision to order twice-monthly overnight visits between Jennifer and Gary Troxel and the two young daughters of their deceased son despite the objections of the girls' mother, Tommie Granville, who had previously sanctioned daytime visits only.

Besides court-ordered sleepovers, as pointed out by Richard W. Garnett in the Wall Street Journal, the original ruling also demanded that Ms. Granville keep the Troxels up-to-date on the girls' activities, both in and out of school, and explicitly required her to confer with the Troxels before discussing the father's death with the girls. The court, in other words, set itself a place at the head of the Granville family table, Big Brother-style, and took it upon itself to call the family shots.

Good thing the U.S. Supreme Court last week nullified this intrusive court order, 6-3, that had effectively ushered the coercive power of the state into the bosom of a functioning, law-abiding family. Indeed, worth noting is the fact that neither the mother's fitness nor the children's welfare were even factors in the original court order. The court simply acted as the court saw fit and, appropriately, has been rebuffed. Chalk one up for parental rights, family privacy and personal liberty.

But while ruling that the Washington court had gone too far, the Supreme Court stopped short of saying that parents have the right to deny anyone, including grandparents, visitation. Instead, the Supreme Court deemed the statute unconstitutional because, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the main opinion, it infringed on Ms. Granville's right "to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her two daughters." In other words, it infringed on Ms. Granville's parental rights.

The issue of parental rights has been much in the news this year, providing the rationale for many Americans to support the efforts of the Clinton administration and the Castro regime to assist Juan Miguel Gonzalez in returning his son Elian to Cuba. The father has a right, the argument goes, to take his son home to a totalitarian regime that supercedes any rights of Elian's Miami relatives, who act, it seems to be forgotten, on behalf of Elian's deceased mother. Some see the Clinton administration's position in the Gonzalez case affirmed by the outcome of Troxel vs. Granville. Indeed, some must wonder, how one can support the parental rights victory of Troxel vs. Granville and continue to oppose Mr. Gonzalez's apparently successful efforts to circumvent Elian's quest for asylum and residency.

The fact is, Troxel vs. Granville comes down to more than a decision about the primacy of parental rights over relatives' rights. The case is also about the government's infringement on the liberty of Ms. Granville, whose personal affairs were intruded upon to the point of dictating how she would prepare to speak of her daughters' deceased father. By nullifying the Washington court order, the Supreme Court is doing more than recognizing the importance of parental rights. It is also acting to eject the government from the Granville family's affairs. Big Brother, it has ruled, has no place inside the American family.

The Gonzalez case is different. Far from booting Big Brother from the Gonzalez household, the Clinton administration intruded on what should have been an issue for state family courts to resolve, as the Immigration and Naturalization Service initially acknowledged when Elian made it to safety in the United States. Further, the administration's decision to accede to Juan Miguel Gonzalez's wishes actually guarantees Big Brother, in the person of Fidel Castro, a permanent place in the life of Elian Gonzalez. Before Americans seek to apply the relatively simple lessons of Troxel to the complexities of the Gonzalez case, it is worth remembering that the parental rights that exist for Ms. Granville in Washington state and, in theory, for Mr. Gonzalez in Cleveland Park completely evaporate in Castro's Havana.

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