The U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings this week on the role of
federal courts in child-custody cases, suing state judges and on
criminal investigations. And it listened to arguments on Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) policies toward firing gay employees.
- Parents may not turn to the federal courts in trying to
resolve conflicting child-custody rulings by courts in different
states, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously earlier this week.
The justices said a 1980 federal law, the Parental Kidnapping
Prevention Act, was aimed only at getting states to cooperate with
each other in such cases, and did not envision federal court
Writing for the court in a case from California and Louisiana,
Justice Thurgood Marshall acknowledged that "child snatching" by
competing parents is a national problem. He said congressional
sponsors of the 1980 law estimated that up to 100,000 children are
kidnapped each year by parents unable to obtain legal custody.
But Marshall said Congress meant only to encourage more
cooperation among state courts, and did not mean to get federal
"Instructing the federal courts to play Solomon where two state
courts have issued conflicting custody orders would entangle them in
traditional state-law questions that they have little expertise to
resolve," Marshall said. "This is a cost that Congress made clear
it did not want the (law) to carry."
The case acted on was sparked by the 1979 divorce of David A.
and Susan A. Thompson. They were awarded joint custody of their
In 1980, a California court presiding over the fight for
permanent custody of Matthew allowed Susan Thompson to keep physical
custody of the boy as she moved to Baton Rouge, La., to become head
of the child neurology division of the Louisiana State University
School of Medicine.
Susan Thompson began custody proceedings in Louisiana courts,
and in early 1981 was awarded permanent sole custody of Matthew.
Shortly thereafter, California courts awarded permanent sole custody
of Matthew to his father.
David Thompson sued in federal court, seeking a ruling that
California courts had the authority to settle the custody matter.
But the Supreme Court ruling said the Parental Kidnapping Prevention
Act does not authorize such federal lawsuits.
"Should state courts prove as obstinate as (Thompson) predicts,
Congress may want to revisit the issue," Marshall said. "But any
more radical approach to the problem will have to await further
legislative action.". .
- The CIA, entrusted with protecting national security, should
have a free hand to fire a gay agent, the Supreme Court was told.
A Reagan administration lawyer told the justices that the
agency's decision to dismiss the agent should not be subject to
review in federal courts. But the agent's attorney said the CIA
director's broad powers over personnel matters do not give him the
authority to violate an employee's constitutional rights.
The arguments came in a case involving the agency's 1982 firing
of an agent identified in court documents only by the fictitious
name of John Doe. The CIA claimed the agent's homosexuality was a
Solicitor General Charles Fried told the court that the 1947 law
establishing the CIA gives the agency's director the power to fire
an employee if such action is deemed "necessary or advisable" to
protect the interests or intelligence sources of the nation. …