Regardless, Melody DeShaney’s § 1983 action against the agency failed. Evenextreme incompetence on the part of DSS could not constitute a breach of the FourteenthAmendment, said the Court. Its protection extends only to instances of state interferenceagainst individuals, and by declining to act, the agency had never interfered. Further, theFourteenth Amendment confers no affirmative guarantee to “freedom…from unjustifiedintrusions on personal security” by private individuals.
Indeed, the judgment appears a levelheaded interpretation of the law. Prohibitionon unequal treatment has historically applied to cases of affirmative governmentinterference or conferred benefits, not failure to perform a duty. For example, police whoin good faith fail to stop a murderer from murdering should probably not be held liablefor their inaction. On its face, therefore, the majority opinion rests comfortably within thelegal system’s traditions.Yet, as stoic legal scholars nod in time with Rehnquist’s gavel, this principle andthe interpretation leading to
outcome merit another look. The approach a justice chooses can change everything—from the cases deemed relevant precedent to the principles those cases uphold in the law. The tragic circumstances of
earnestly beg the question:
the law remain neutral in the face of such blatant abrogation of duty?A far-from-simple principle, the invocation of negative liberty cannot simply beaccepted as a platitude substituting deeper examination
This essay will argue for broader theory of interpretation, one that provides a more comprehensive analysis of
and its affect on the underlying principles of our legal system. While it may fit into our legal tradition, is a decision’s fit the only basis for evaluating