Justices Seem Set To Back Child-Abuse Ruling

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Washington--A clear majority of the U.S. Supreme Court's members strongly indicated last week that they would vote to uphold a ruling that a Wisconsin child-protection agency did not violate a boy's 14th Amendment right to "liberty" when it failed to take adequate steps to protect him from his abusive father.

During arguments last week in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (No. 87-154), Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun was the sole member of the panel who displayed a willingness to overturn the federal appellate decision in the case.

'The facts in this case seem to shock me more than some of my brethren," Justice Blackmun remarked.

Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor appeared to typify the leanings suggested in questions by the other eight members of Court, when she told the boy's lawyer, "I think you are asking the Court to take a step that is quite unwarranted."

School officials have been moni8toring the case because it could have implications for administrators who fail to report suspected cases of abuse to the police or child-welfare agencies, or who hire teachers who later abuse their students.

Abused Child

The DeShaney case was filed by a divorced mother on behalf of her 9-year-old son, who was beaten so severely by his father that he was permanently brain-damaged and will be institutionalized for life.

During last week's hearing, the boy's lawyer, Donald J. Sullivan, contended that the social-service agency was aware that the boy was being physically abused but failed to take steps to protect him. The agency's negligence, he said, deprived the boy of his "substantive" rights under the 14th Amendment's due-process clause.

Mark J. Mingo, a lawyer for the county agency, countered that the lawsuit "attempts to turn wrongdoing by the father into state action."

The Court is expected to hand down its decision in the case early next year.

Action on Other Cases

In other action, the Court last week announced that it would not hear appeals in the following cases.

Perumal v. Saddleback Valley Unified School District (No. 88-340). A federal appeals court had ruled in the suit that the California district did not violate the First Amendment religious and free-speech rights of high-school students by forbidding them to distribute flyersand to purchase a yearbook advertisement encouraging other students to join a Bible study group that met on the school steps and lawn.

Cornhusker Christian Children's Home v. Department of Social Services (No. 87-2058). The Nebraska facility for troubled youths unsuccessfully argued that a state rule forbidding the use of corporal punishment in such homes violated parents' 14th Amendment liberty interest in directing their children's upbringing.

Lachman v. Illinois State Board of Education (No. 88-364). The Court had been asked by the parents of a deaf 6-year-old to overturn an appellate decision that denied their request that the boy be provided with a sign-language interpreter in a "mainstreamed" classroom. They objected to a decision by school officials to place their son in a special school for the handicapped.--tm

Vol. 08, Issue 10

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