Harry Blackmun: Dissent in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services

(1989)

In the 1989 case of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the case of Joshua DeShaney, whose father had been granted custody of him in a Wyoming divorce case. After the divorce, father and son had moved to Wisconsin, where over the course of several years incidents of child abuse were reported and followed up by police, social services caseworkers, and hospital personnel. Each time, the courts returned the child to his father, until he was beaten so severely that he sustained permanent and severe brain damage. Joshua’s mother filed a lawsuit against the Winnebago Department of Social Services, claiming that by failing to intervene and protect him from the abuse inflicted by his father, the agency had violated Joshua’s rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority Court opinion ruled against the mother, stating that due process protects against state actions only, not those of the father....

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Harry Blackmun (Library of Congress)

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