DeShaney v. Winnebago County was a landmark Supreme Court Case which was ruled on in February, 1989. The case revolved around Joshua DeShaney, a child who who was reportedly abused by his father, Randy DeShaney. In 1980, Joshua's parents divorced and his father won full custody. In 1983, Joshua was hospitalized for suspected abuse by his father. Winnebago County Department of Social Services got involved and four year old Joshua DeShaney was kept in the hospital's custody for three days. However, “On the recommendation of a 'child protection team,' consisting of a pediatrician, a psychologist, a police detective, the county's lawyer, several DSS caseworkers, and various hospital personnel, the juvenile court dismissed the case and returned the boy to the custody of his father.” (US Supreme Court). Over the next year, Winnebago's Department of Social Services visited the DeShaney household five times and each time, suspected child abuse was reported. In January and March of 1984, Joshua was reported too ill to be visited by social services for his bimonthly check ups. Evidently, he had been beaten to the point of slipping in to a life threatening coma by his father. Emergency brain surgery revealed that Joshua had a series of severe brain hemorrhages caused by head injuries inflicted over a long period of time. Joshua DeShaney survived, but he suffered severe brain damage and was not expected to ever make a full recovery.
Joshua DeShaney's mother filed a lawsuit on his behalf, claiming that because DSS had taken no action to prevent the violence affecting her son, they had violated his right to liberty without the due process gauranteed to him by the Fourteenth Amendment. Joshua's mother sued under “42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that respondents had deprived petitioner of his liberty interest in bodily integrity, in violation of his rights under the substantive component of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, by failing to intervene to protect him against his father's violence.” (US Supreme Court). Winnebago County argued that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment only protected citizens from actions by the State and not by a private actor.
At the time of the case, the Supreme Court consisted of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justices Byron White, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, William Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Harry Blackmun. The Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Winnebago County after holding that the Due Process Clause did not protect an individual from violent actions by a private actor.
The Due Process Clause was interpreted differently by various Justices in the Court who were using different theories for understanding the Constitution. There are three major theories for Constitutional interpretation. The first is textualism, which is the theory that the “ordinary meaning” of a law should be used for its interpretation, rather than the reason it was...