The Privatization of the Civil Commitment Process and the State Action Doctrine: Have the Mentally Ill Been Systematically Stripped of Their Fourteenth Amendment Rights?
75 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2013
Date Written: 2001
Civil commitment constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection. The Supreme Court has recognized that a mentally ill person's interest in avoiding wrongful deprivation of liberty is “almost uniquely compelling.” The degree of interference with personal liberty that an individual suffers when he is involuntarily hospitalized is essentially the same as the deprivation of liberty that one suffers after conviction in a criminal trial. Hence, civil commitments “present an extraordinary possibility of abuse to individual liberty.”
This article will first briefly examine the impact of the privatization movement on the process of psychiatric hospitalization. The article will then address state action jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, followed by an examination and comparison of district court and courts of appeals cases that have addressed the issue of whether civil commitment constitutes state action. Next, this article will analyze the issue at hand under Supreme Court state action jurisprudence in general. The article will detail why, based upon well-established Supreme Court state action jurisprudence, it almost borders on the absurd to conclude that civil commitment does not constitute state action. In so arguing, this article will not, as some authorities have done, assert that the present state action doctrine needs to be reformulated. Rather, this article accepts, as a given, the present state of Supreme Court jurisprudence. To correct the present state of the law, it is incumbent on the Supreme Court to address this issue, or the circuit courts to reevaluate this issue, and hold that private physicians who act under the authority of the state to involuntarily hospitalize a mentally ill individual engage in state action.
Keywords: civil commitment, state action doctrine, mentally ill, Fourteenth Amendment, 14th Amendment, William Brooks, Brooks, due process, confinement, mentally ill, mental illness, commitment laws, Constitution, state action, Spencer v. Lee
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