How Justices Vote in Termination of Parental Rights Cases

A recent post on juvenile-defendant decisions filed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court from September 1, 1992, through August 31, 2017, omitted termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) cases, as these did not concern juveniles charged with crimes.  However, the set of TPR decisions accumulated during this research merits a brief post of its own, for these decisions contain some interesting features and, of course, center on an emotional question.

That question—“Should a parent be deprived of future involvement with his or her children?”—was answered “yes” by the justices in 71% (5/7) of their decisions.[1]

Before glancing below at the frequency with which individual justices voted for such an outcome, consider this question: Have “liberal” or “conservative” justices been more inclined to terminate a parent’s rights to his/her children?  Or, does it seem just as likely that no pattern has emerged among the justices on this score?

The answer appears in the following table, which finds that conservatives have been more disposed than liberals to sever parents’ contact with their children.  Although the number of cases is small, the tendency is difficult to deny—and (for me) to explain.  I would be grateful for any theories on this point that readers are prepared to offer.


[1] The table includes Angela M.W. v. William Kruzicki.  Here, blood tests confirmed that Angela was using cocaine or other drugs while carrying a viable fetus.  Waukesha County filed a motion requesting an order “removing the above-named unborn child from his or her present custody, and placing the unborn child” in protective custody.  This would require, of course, the detention of Angela as well (in a treatment facility), and a juvenile court filed such an order.  Ultimately, the supreme court ruled in favor of Angela, concluding that the CHIPS statute (children alleged to be in need of protection or services) does not apply to fetuses as well as children.

The table does not include Tammie J.C. v. Robert T.R. (A child’s mother wanted the child’s father, her former husband, to be denied parental rights.) and In Interest of Brandon S.S. (The case featured a dispute between Brandon’s parents on the one hand, who wanted to terminate their own parental rights and give Brandon up for adoption, and, on the other hand, Brandon’s grandparents, who had begun a separate action for custody and visitation.).

About Alan Ball

Alan Ball is a Professor of History at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

SCOWstats offers numerical analysis of the voting by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on diverse issues over the past 93 years.

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