Why the Right to Privacy Is Not an Open Records Issue

One of the main concerns raised by those who oppose opening records to the adult adoptee, is that doing so violates a birthparent's right to privacy. Open records proponents have long argued that there is no right to privacy that extends to the disclosure of birth information to the adoptee, and now the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down a decision confirming that the right to privacy is not an open records issue.

On February 11th, in Doe v. Sundquist, a case challenging Tennessee legislation that gave adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, the Appeals Court stated that the plaintiffs' claim that the new law violated their right to privacy was invalid. They opined, in part, that "A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event--the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth." (1997 FED App. 0051P (6th Cir))

Further, the justices of the Sixth Circuit Court found that "if there is a federal constitutional right of familial privacy, it does not extend as far as the plaintiffs would like." The opinion also cited a 1981 decision in which the appeals court found that "the Constitution does not encompass a general right to nondisclosure of private information." The Court further found that the interest of an adoptee to know who his birthparents were is "an interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy".

The Sixth Circuit decision to the Supreme Court, the opinion states that "the plaintiffs' ultimate chance of success on their federal claims is so slim as to be entirely ephemeral."

The right to privacy, an implicit right that is not found specifically within our Constitution, requires case law to flesh it out and define it further. Our nation's courts have spoken clearly that the right to privacy does not extend to a birthparent who wishes to keep birth information from the very person to whom it primarily pertains; the adoptee.

From CA Open

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