WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to scold a San Francisco-based federal appeals court for dismissing a lawsuit by parents outraged that a school district surveyed their young children about sex.
Over objections from some Democrats who complained Republicans were seeking the kind of judicial activism the GOP normally denounces, lawmakers voted 320 to 91 for a resolution that said the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "deplorably infringed on parental rights."
The resolution says the 9th Circuit should rehear Fields v. Palmdale School District. The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel earlier this month said that "parents are possessed of no constitutional right to prevent the public schools from providing information" on sex to students.
"What we are speaking to here is a case in which a court, I believe, far overreached the issues involved in a case and declared parenting unconstitutional," said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who offered the resolution.
But Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said Congress shouldn't get involved.
"Here we bash the court for not creating a new constitutional right never before proclaimed ... in order to overturn a local school decision," he said.
The Palmdale School District, north of Los Angeles, had given the survey to first-, third- and fifth-graders, but dropped it in 2002 after parents complained. It was part of a program to gauge early trauma and help youngsters overcome barriers to learning, and asked students, among other things, how often they thought about sex.
Wednesday's vote was the latest example of lawmakers chafing at a decision of the 9th Circuit, which has angered conservatives and some Democrats with rulings like one in 2002 that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools.
House Republicans are pushing legislation to divide the circuit, which covers nine Western states, into two pieces, arguing it's gotten too big to be effective. The Bush administration supports the move but it's meeting resistance in the Senate.