WASHINGTON - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says he plans to continue reforms to the state's civil commitment program for sex offenders.
Dayton issued a statement Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, meaning that an appeals court decision declaring the program constitutional will stand.
Minnesota's sex offender civil commitment system allows people deemed sexually dangerous to be committed to a treatment facility for an indefinite period of time.
The Democratic governor says that while the program has been deemed constitutional, it doesn't mean that ongoing reforms will be abandoned. He says the ruling will allow the state to continue reforms rather than operate under a federal directive.
Last session, Dayton proposed $18.4 million in new funding to improve facilities and staffing. He says he is urging lawmakers to join him in funding continued reforms.
According to the sex offenders who brought the lawsuit, more than 700 people are now committed in the state as "sexually dangerous" or a "sexual psychopathic personality." They argued the "fatal flaw" in the scheme is that Minnesota doesn't require a regular review of those cases to see if the individuals should still be held.
Minnesota told the court that offenders can petition for release using a simple-to-obtain form.
“This decision from the U.S. Supreme Court affirms that both the Minnesota Sex Offender Program and the State's Civil Commitment Statute are constitutional," said Governor Mark Dayton in a released statement. "Importantly, this ruling does not mean that we abandon our ongoing reforms, to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all Minnesotans. Rather, this ruling will allow us to continue the reforms we have begun, rather than operate under a federal directive."
Dan Gustafson, the attorney who represents the certified class of over 700 civilly committed sex offenders, was obviously disappointed by the court's decision.
“My clients are directly affected by this decision, and obviously disappointed because they continue to face the prospect of lifetime commitment at MSOP that admittedly fails to safeguard their rights.”
“But this is also a day that should concern everyone who believes that the federal courts should jealously guard the constitutional rights of groups of unpopular citizens threatened by popular political decisions.Without federal court intervention, issues such as a woman’s right to choose, access to higher education and school desegregation, the protection of voting rights, immigration rights and the right for all citizens to marry could not have been achieved.”
Another expert on Minnesota's sex offenders program says the high court has left a broken system in place by refusing to take up the offenders' legal challenge.
Eric Janus is a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul who has testified as an expert against the program. He says he's "very disappointed" by Monday's announcement from the court, and the people of Minnesota should be too.
Janus says the biggest problem of the Minnesota program is the "systemic thwarting" of the principle that people should be released when they can be safely managed in a community.
He says the state has made some small progress under legal pressure to change the program, but that pressure is gone now.