Washington v. Harper

PETITIONER: Washington
LOCATION: Oregon Department of Human Resources

DOCKET NO.: 88-599
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Washington Supreme Court

CITATION: 494 US 210 (1990)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 1989
DECIDED: Feb 27, 1990

Brian Reed Phillips - on behalf of Respondent
Paul J. Larkin, Jr. - as amicus curiae, supporting Petitioners
William L. Williams - on behalf of Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Washington v. Harper

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 1989 in Washington v. Harper

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 27, 1990 in Washington v. Harper

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 88-599, Washington against Harper will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This case is before us on certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

It is Washington versus Harper.

Walter Harper is the respondent.

For most of the times since 1976, he was a prisoner in the Washington State Penal System.

He has been diagnosed as suffering from a mental disorder which causes him to pose a likelihood of serious harm to others.

It is an accepted medical practice to treat persons with conditions like Harper’s with antipsychotic drugs these are sometimes called psychotropic drugs.

The drugs in most cases are an effective means of treating some mental illnesses, but they may have serious side effects.

While in prison, Harper accepted this treatment for a time, but then objected to its continuance.

He brought suit in the Washington State Courts alleging, among other points, that he was entitled to a judicial hearing before the drugs could be administered to him by prison officials.

Reversing the State Trial Court, the Washington Supreme Court held that a judicial hearing is required before the drug treatments can continue.

We granted certiorari and we now reverse and remand the case for further proceedings.

There is an initial procedural point as to whether or not the case is moot, and we hold that it is not moot.

We hold that the written policy of the Washington prison officials governing the use of these drugs does not violate the Due Process Clause.

Although Harper has a clear liberty interest in avoiding the unwarranted administration of antipsychotic drugs, the state has an interest in providing a prison inmate with appropriate medical treatment for a mental illness which renders him dangerous to himself or others.

Washington’s written policy which permits a dangerous and mentally ill inmate to be treated with antipsychotic drugs when medically appropriate is a reasonable means of reconciling the inmate’s and the state’s interest.

The policy satisfies the procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause.

The decision is made by a committee composed of the prison psychiatrist or psychologist and an administrator, none of them concurrently be involved in the inmate’s case.

The decision is made after a full hearing with the prisoner having a knowledgeable person to assist him in presenting any objections.

The decision to be made here is medical in nature, not judicial.

Our precedents recognized that in such cases, the state can reasonably decide that medical professionals, not judges, are the most appropriate decision makers.

Justice Blackmun has joined the opinion of the Court and has filed a separate concurring opinion; Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which Justices Brennan and Marshall join.