State Watch

Disability, civil rights groups file lawsuit challenging Newsom’s CARE Courts program

(AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Several disability and civil rights advocacy groups in California filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) new court program targeting mental health concerns that he signed into law last year.

Disability Rights California, the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the Public Interest Law Project filed a petition with the California Supreme Court on Thursday, alleging that Newsom’s CARE Courts program violates the rights to due process and equal protection in the state constitution. The groups said the program created a court-ordered system of involuntary outpatient treatment by restricting patients’ “autonomy in choosing their medical provider and where and with whom they live.”

“Although designed to address the State’s homelessness crisis, it will not further that goal. And on its face, the CARE Act violates essential constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection while needlessly burdening fundamental rights to privacy, autonomy and liberty,” the petition states.

The petition asks the Supreme Court to block the rollout of the program.

Newsom last year signed into law the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court, which requires all California counties to provide free comprehensive treatment to homeless citizens suffering from a list of ailments. Under this new law, community members could refer unsheltered people to community-based services to attempt to treat people before they are hospitalized or arrested.

This referral could result in court-ordered individualized interventions and services, stabilization medication, advanced mental health directives and housing assistance, which could last up to one or two years. A public defender and a supporter will also be assigned to those referred the CARE Court “to help individuals make self-directed care decisions.”

However, Disability Rights California said this system takes away “fundamental rights” in the California Constitution and targets those with schizophrenia, which the group notes could impact communities of color due to Latino and Black people being more likely to be misdiagnosed with the disorder.

The petition argues that the program violates the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution “because it singles out people with schizophrenia for burdensome court proceedings and coerced treatment not imposed on others similarly situated.”

“No other California mental health statute distinguishes between individuals based on diagnosis, rather than severity of need,” the petition states.

The groups also said that criteria to refer someone to the program is “unclear,” which could lead to “biased and discriminatory enforcement and decision-making.” The petition argues this unclear language effectively violates the due process clause of the state’s constitution.

“For individuals who are not presently a danger or gravely disabled, the CARE Act’s eligibility criteria require the courts to speculate who might become so in the future, without offering any guidance about how to make such a subjective determination,” the petition states.

Tags CARE Act CARE Courts Disabilities Disability Rights California Gavin Newsom Gavin Newsom

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