California law mandating treatment for mental illness faces legal challenges

A California disability rights group is asking the state Supreme Court to block enforcement of the CARE Act, a sweeping piece of legislation signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last fall. The law, which aims to address the state’s homelessness crisis, created “care courts,” enabling the state to force seriously mentally ill people into court-ordered treatment and housing programs. However, disability rights groups have consistently opposed the measure, arguing that it risks abuse by ensnaring the mentally ill under state control.

“The CARE Act was an attempt to respond to two crises—a lack of affordable, accessible housing and mental health care—that forced many into last-resort living situations,” the petition argued. “Isolating people with schizophrenia and subjecting them to involuntary outpatient treatment, multiple court hearings, mandatory evaluations and other statutory punishments is not an appropriate response.”

The CARES Act was signed last September, with Governor Newsom claiming that the new law “[offer] Bringing hope and a new path forward for thousands of struggling Californians and empowering them to help their loved ones. Under the law, individuals such as first responders, family members, and physicians can petition a severely mentally ill person to “participate in the CARE program.”

If the person meets certain requirements, such as a severe mental illness that is currently untreated, the case can proceed in two ways. First, if the person voluntarily accepts treatment, the case is dismissed. If the person refuses, they are assigned an attorney and have multiple hearings. A judge can ultimately order a “care plan” mandating the person to undergo mental health treatment. The plan is automatically held for one year, with a possible voluntary one-year extension.

Supporters argue that the CARE Act would allow the state to address its homelessness crisis by helping severely mentally ill homeless people off the streets and into treatment. However, disability rights groups and civil liberties organizations argue that CARE plans are rife with the potential for abuse.

“Unfortunately, instead of focusing on evidence-based approaches that prioritize permanent housing and voluntary health care, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s so-called ‘Care Court’ plan would create a new court system that would subject people with mental health disabilities to involuntary treatment. It’s not. Reply,” last year. California American Civil Liberties Union wrote in June.

Now, Disability Rights California has taken legal action, asking the California Supreme Court to block enforcement of the law. The petition, which was filed late last month, argues that the CARE Act violates due process rights by using “vague” and “undefined” language to force individuals into restrictive court-mandated treatment plans that the petition claims are “arbitrary and discriminatory decisions.” may be to create.”

Further, the petition argues that the CARE Act violates equal protection rights by singling out people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia for court proceedings. “No other California mental health law differentiates between individuals based on diagnosis rather than severity of need,” the petition states.

Overall, the petition argues that the CARE Act would lead to gross violations of many fundamental rights guaranteed under the California Constitution. “Thousands of homeless Californians with mental illness will be threatened with court orders, forced into involuntary treatment and thrown onto the streets, not because they are a danger to themselves or others, but because a judge has determined they are ‘likely’ to be. In the future, ” the petition states. “While 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 unnecessarily impinging on fundamental rights to privacy, autonomy, and liberty.”

While it’s unclear whether the California Supreme Court will take up this challenge to the CARE Act, this latest move provides a clear argument against the state’s use of power to force individuals into treatment.

“The CARES Act establishes a mandatory new court system that authorizes the deprivation of liberty and autonomy in conflict with Californians’ fundamental constitutional rights,” Mike Rawson, director of litigation at the Public Interest Law Project, said in a January press release. “Such coercive measures and treatments have been proven ineffective and will only serve to perpetuate institutionalized racism and worsen health disparities.”