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Court Rejects Attempt By Retarded Couple To Regain Custody Of Child

November 30, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an attempt by a mentally retarded Illinois couple to regain the 3-year-old son taken from them.

The court, without comment, let stand rulings that Paul and Patti Ensign were unfit parents even though they loved their son and never intentionally neglected him.

Lawyers for the couple had argued that state court rulings against the Ensigns demonstrate ″inherent prejudice against persons with mental retardation.″

Barbara Heathfield, a Chicago lawyer who helped represent the Ensigns, characterized the high court’s treatment of their appeal as ″unenlightened.″

″We concede that the Ensigns are not model parents. But there should have been some consideration, in an enlightened society, of those actions that could be taken without having to terminate all parental rights,″ she said.

In other actions Monday, the court:

-Agreed to decide in a case from New York City whether local governments may regulate the quality of cable television signals. The Federal Communications Commission opposes such local regulation, saying it could hinder the cable industry’s growth.

-Agreed to consider letting the Reagan administration stop regulating some natural gas prices, a move government lawyers say could save consumers $100 million a year.

-Let stand a $703,000 award won by a former automobile plant foreman in Framingham, Mass., who accused a labor union of libeling him in its newspaper.

The parental rights case centered on Paul Ensign Jr., who was born Nov. 28, 1984. The Ensigns have not seen him since December 1985, when he was placed in the custody of the state Department of Children and Family Services.

The Ensigns’ parental rights were terminated then, and state officials were enpowered to consent to Paul Jr.’s adoption. Monday’s action will clear the way for adoption of the child, who has been living in a foster home.

Questions about the Ensigns’ ability to care for their son were raised when he was 11 or 12 days old. Ensign was holding Paul Jr. in a plastic infant seat outside a restaurant in Sullivan, Ill. When he brought his knee up to balance the seat, the baby and blanket covering him slid out, falling about three feet to the sidewalk.

Someone who saw the accident notified the Moultrie County nurse, who examined Paul Jr. and later sent him to a doctor for a further check-up. He had not been harmed.

At the 1985 hearing, witnesses testified that the Ensigns were loving parents but could not care for Paul Jr. without help.

A psychologist testified that Ensign has an IQ of 43 and is functioning at a 7-year-old’s level. Mrs. Ensign has an IQ of 36, the psychologist said.

The couple’s apartment was found generally to be sanitary, and no signs of abuse were ever observed on Paul Jr., who suffers from an undersized brain.

A state appeals court upheld the termination of the Ensigns’ parental rights.

Noting that the couple ″have a great amount of love and affection″ for Paul Jr., the appeals court said, ″We are mindful of the fact that all persons, including the retarded, have the right to marry, establish a home and raise a family, and that these rights are of deep human importance and should not be terminated lightly.″

But it added, ″The evidence in this case has conclusively demonstrated that due to severe mental impairment, (the Ensigns) are unable to discharge their parental responsibilities.″

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