In the ensuing decades, the high court reiterated the fundamental status of parental rights. In May v. Anderson (1953), the justices noted that a mother’s right to the “care, custody, management and companionship of her minor children” is an interest “far more precious” than any property right. In Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), they concluded that parental rights are firmly rooted in the “history and culture of Western civilization” and “established beyond debate.” And in Troxel v. Granville, decided in 2000, the Supreme Court invalidated a Washington law that empowered the state’s courts to disregard the views of custodial parents as to whether “third parties”—in this case grandparents—should have visitation rights to minor children. In an opinion for a four-justice plurality, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor emphasized that parental rights were “the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests,” dating back to Meyer and Pierce.
Even before Dobbs, federal judges were citing this line of cases in upholding recent parental-rights claims. In May, Judge Holly Teeter enjoined a Kansas school policy prohibiting teachers from revealing a transgender student’s “preferred first name and pronouns” when communicating with parents. Although the plaintiff in Ricard v. USD 475 was a teacher, Judge Teeter went out of her way to chastise the school’s intrusion on parental rights. Quoting Pierce and Troxell, she questioned why a school would even claim an “interest in withholding or concealing from the parents of minor children, information fundamental to a child’s identity, personhood, and mental and emotional well-being.”