The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Const. amend. XIV protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.
A Washington state statute (1) permitted any person to petition a state court for child visitation rights at any time, and (2) authorized the court to order visitation rights for any person when visitation might serve the best interest of the child. Pursuant to the statute, paternal grandparents filed a petition to obtain visitation rights with their deceased son's children. After the Washington Superior Court for Skagit County granted the grandparents more visitation time than the children's mother desired, the mother appealed. While the appeal was pending, the mother, who had never married the children's father, was married to a father of six, who adopted the two children. The Washington Court of Appeals reversed the visitation order and dismissed the petition for visitation (87 Wash App 131, 940 P2d 698). The Washington Supreme Court, affirming the judgment of the Court of Appeals, expressed the view that the statute infringed on the fundamental right, under the Federal Constitution, of parents to rear their children (137 Wash 2d 1, 969 P2d 21).
Did the application of the state statute allowing visitation rights to the paternal grandparents violate the mother's right, under the due process clause of the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, to bring up her children?
On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court affirmed. Although unable to agree on an opinion, six members of the court agreed that application of the state statute to allow visitation rights to the paternal grandparents violated the mother's right under the due process clause of the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment to bring up her children.
The court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause protected the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children; and (2) as applied to the mother and her family in the instant case, the state statute unconstitutionally infringed on that fundamental right, as (a) the grandparents did not allege, and no court had found, that the mother was an unfit parent, (b) there was a traditional presumption that fit parents acted in the best interests of their children, and (c) there was no allegation that the mother ever sought to cut off visitation entirely.