But What About the Children?

Sometimes the Supreme Court makes news for the cases it doesn’t take, not just the opinions it produces in cases it hears.  Today marked one such occasion, when the Court denied cert in Dupuy v. McEwen, in which Cato filed an amicus brief.

For more than a decade, the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services has investigated parents based on anonymous tips of abuse or neglect, and deemed them “indicated” after a cursory investigation by state officials who have no effective check on their unilateral authority. Unlike actual child abuse cases, in which the State removes children from abusive situations with judicial approval, the State takes a different route with “indicated” parents – threatening them with what it calls a “Safety Plan.” In so doing, the State demands that parents abandon their homes and families pending an investigation of unlimited duration. Frequently State officials will threaten to remove children immediately into foster care if the parents do not “consent” to the plans without counsel and without negotiation. According to the Seventh Circuit, parents are not allowed to challenge the plans in a judicial or administrative forum if they “consent” to the State’s demands, even if they do so only after being threatened with the loss of their children. Our brief, which supported the class of parents petitioning the Supreme Court for review of these practices, argued that these “Safety Plans” violate the Due Process Clause because they infringe on fundamental family rights without affording any opportunity to challenge state action. They also vest unfettered discretion in state officials to infringe on parents’ fundamental rights. Finally, they represent an unconstitutional condition that forces parents to make an agonizing choice between abandoning their children in the hope that the State’s vague concerns would be mollified by subsequent investigation, or taking the risk that the State would make good on its threat to remove their children into foster care without a hearing.

We had some hope on this case – as did SCOTUSblog – because the Court had asked Illinois to respond to the cert petition (immediately after receiving our amicus brief I should add!), and also because SCOTUSblog had picked it as “one to watch,” but it was not to be. It’s not a tremendously surprising outcome given the tangled procedural history underlying the case – making it a less than ideal vehicle for presenting these issues – but still a disappointing result for parents, children, and freedom from state coercion.