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Federal Authority to Enforce ADA’s Mental Health Protections At Risk In Mississippi Case

The fate of a U.S. Justice Department effort to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of Mississippians caught up in the State’s troubled mental health system rests on the decision of three judges in New Orleans.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the State is in violation of the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Olmstead v. L.C., which says states must ensure the same protections for mentally ill people as other disabled people under the ADA. But the State contends that it is making progress and should be allowed to continue doing so without interference from the federal government.

A ruling in favor of the State of Mississippi could set up a significant challenge to the authority of the federal government to intervene in state mental health care systems across the nation under the ADA’s Title II, a power it has used many times in previous decades.

“The remedies provided under Title II are to persons. The United States is not a person. This has to be brought in by a person as an Olmstead (violation),” Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart argued in court on Wednesday.

In an Oct. 6 interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Families As Allies Director Joy Hogge summed up the State’s argument. “(The question is), does the U.S. Department of Justice even have the right to come into a state and sue? Does Title II of the ADA allow the DOJ to do that? Or does it have to be, say, an individual in the system that says ‘my rights are being violated,’ and they go get an attorney somewhere to sue the system?”

After the 5th Circuit’s issues a ruling, the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a judgment in favor of Mississippi could fundamentally alter the authority of the federal government to intervene in similar future cases nationwide. The 5th Circuit hears cases originating in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

A ‘Hospital-Centered’ Mental Health System

The established Olmstead precedent holds that individuals with mental illnesses have a constitutional right to remain in their own communities wherever possible.

Previously, Judge

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