WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the Constitution bars a state from forcibly confining mentally retarded adults in state homes without giving them a full hearing.
The decision will come in a Kentucky case, which has been widely watched for its potential to clarify the rights of the nation's retarded people.
Until 1988, Kentucky officials had kept retarded adults in state facilities based on a request from their parents. These confinements were deemed "voluntary."
But in a series of ground-breaking lawsuits, a class of mentally retarded people challenged these procedures and won the right to a hearing before they were confined.
State officials, however, have continued to insist that they should not be required to go through "confused, complex, unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming procedures" before placing each retarded adult in a state facility.
In June, however, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, once a retarded person becomes an adult, the parents are no longer entitled to speak for their child. The court also will reconsider that conclusion in the case of Heller vs. Doe.
In a second case from Kentucky, the justices yesterday let stand a state law giving grandparents the right to visit their grandchildren. Most states have similar laws, attorneys told the court.
But Stewart and Anne King, the parents of a 5-year-old daughter, asked the court to rule that such laws infringe on their constitutional rights over their child.
The Kings once lived rent-free in a home owned by Stewart's father, W.R. King. But when the senior King wrangled with his son and accused him of being lazy, the son and wife moved away. They also refused to allow the grandfather to visit his granddaughter.
He in turn went to court and won a judge's order allowing him to visit Jessica twice a week.