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Michigan Legal Milestones
17. Protecting the Impaired

An act of the Michigan legislature providing for forced sterilization of the mentally impaired was held unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court. Dedicated and placed at the Old Lapeer County Courthouse on April 29, 1993.

Michigan Bar Journal

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The Verdict of History: Michigan Jurisprudence Through its Significant Supreme Court Cases, January 2009




Haynes v. Lapeer Circuit Judge

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Protecting the Impaired

The Michigan Legislature passed a bill in 1913 authorizing sterilization of mentally impaired persons confined in public institutions, even over the objections of a parent or guardian. The legislation was enacted "to promote the general welfare of the human race by selective breeding through sterilization" of those confined to public institutions for the mentally ill.

The largest such institution in the state was the Michigan Home and Training School in Lapeer. The superintendent sought to sterilize a patient whose guardian objected, contending that the statute was unconstitutional. Lapeer County Circuit Judge William B. Williams agreed, stating that the law, limited only to those confined in public institutions, "so limits the class of feeble minded persons who may be brought within its provision as to almost entirely subvert its object and make it clearly class legislation," and therefore unconstitutional.

The Michigan Supreme Court upheld Judge Williams in 1918 in Haynes v. Lapeer Circuit Judge, questioning why such legislation should fall only upon those "already under public restraint" and "presumably helpless." Such a distinction was found to be discriminating class legislation violating the equal protection provision of the United States Constitution.

The Haynes decision demonstrates the power of the Constitution of the United States to protect even the most vulnerable members of our society.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Lapeer County Bar Association, 1993.