Minnesota's Gulag: Involuntary Treatment for the "Politically Ill"

C. Peter Erlinder, William Mitchell College of Law


This article will review Minnesota ex rel. Pearson v. Probate Court, the Supreme Court case that upheld the constitutionality of the Psychopathic Personality statute when it was enacted over fifty years ago. This article will compare the standards for commitment under the Minnesota Civil Commitment statute with the standards established by the Psychopathic Personality statute. Further, this article will review both Minnesota decisions, applying the Psychopathic Personality statute following Pearson, and Supreme Court opinions discussing the standards for involuntary hospitalization in the intervening decades. This article concludes that involuntary hospitalization without a judicial finding of both mental illness and dangerousness is a denial of due process. Likewise, involuntary hospitalization based on legislatively created definitions of "illness" violates both due process and equal protection. Finally, even if involuntary hospitalization-on grounds other than a medically recognized diagnosis-is constitutionally permissible, the Psychopathic Personality statute is impermissibly vague both on its face and as construed by the courts of Minnesota.