Parham v. J. R.

LOCATION: First Division Circuit Court, Pulaski County

DOCKET NO.: 75-1690
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 442 US 584 (1979)
REARGUED: Oct 10, 1978
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1979
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1977

John L. Cromartie, Jr. - for appellees
John L. Cromartie, Jr. -
R. Douglas Lackey - for appellants

Facts of the case


Media for Parham v. J. R.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1977 in Parham v. J. R.

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 10, 1978 in Parham v. J. R.

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments first his morning in Number 1690, Parham against several minors.

Mr. Lackey, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

R. Douglas Lackey:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The cause of this case is here for reargument and I realized that the court is familiar with this case.

With the court's permission I would like to begin by simply setting the issues before the court and proceeding directly to my argument.

At issue in this litigation of course is the constitutionality of the Georgia's statute which recognizes the rights of parents of mentally ill children to make application for admission for those children to state mental health facilities.

The statute was attacked on essentially two grounds.

The appellees argued that children have a constitutionally protected liberty interest and that this statute which authorizes their hospitalization without prior notice in hearing deprives them of that liberty interest for that due process of law.

Second, the appellees argued and the District Court found that children who are mentally ill and who receive treatment from the state have a constitutional right to receive treatment for their mental illness and only that treatment setting which is most appropriate to their condition.

Turning to the first issue, the foremost and threshold question which should have been addressed in the District Court and wasn't was an examination of the interest sought to be protected to see whether in fact it has a constitutional dimension.

That is, do children have a constitutional right to challenge the medically indicated decisions of their parents?

What the District Court did was simply look and see that parent's makes decisions or their children and as a result of this decision-making process, that often times the child is subjected to potentially grievous injury.

Here, hospitalization as the District Court characterized it.

And what he said was -- what the District Court said was, is that because of the injury here this children or this parental decision making process can only be done in a constitutionally permissible fashion.

We submit that this is the point where the District Court made the error upon which its entire opinion was predicated.

It is our position that a proper analysis of this case should have begun with the parent-guardian and child relationship.

It's our position that based on this Court's previous decision as well as the history of our western civilization that we have decided and by we, I mean society and not the state, that we have decided that there are certain decisions that children cannot make for themselves, that there are certain decisions that an adult has to make for a child.

And among these decisions are medically indicated decisions with very few exceptions.

That is, it's our position that in our society parents with the advice of a physician routinely make decisions which range from whether a child is to have a tonsillectomy to decisions which have life and death consequences for the child.

One example which I'd like to use is the situation where the parents faced with the child who has a heart defect, the young child.

And a doctor says of course the child can live without an operation.

The child will be an invalid for his or her entire life.

I can operate.

If the operation is successful, the child will live a normal life.

If the operation is not successful, the child would die.

That kind of decision, that kind of life and death decision-making process occurs in the family routinely and yet no one has ever suggested that that kind of a decision which clearly could have the consequences which are much more adverse that what we have here.

No one has ever suggested successfully except in a few recent District Court decisions that that kind of a decision-making process is required to be subjected to an advisory proceeding such as what was mandated here by this District Court decision.

Potter Stewart:

I want to be sure I understand you Mr. Lackey.

Are you suggesting that the constitution and the United States would prohibit the intervention by the state and that sort of situation?

R. Douglas Lackey:

I believe, sir, that it would prohibit it to the extent that the state did not have a compelling state interest to interfere with the --