1️⃣ What are the implications of Britney Spears' case?— ACLU (@ACLU) August 20, 2020
2️⃣ What is a conservatorship?
3️⃣ Why is the ACLU weighing in?
We asked a disability rights lawyer on our team all of these questions and more. Here's what she had to say.https://t.co/dJZQVbi1fX
Britney Spears was in the news this week for formally requesting that her father, who last year was subject to a restraining order on behalf of Britney's two children after he physically assaulted one of them, be completely removed from her conservatorship. Despite some speculation that this might mean she is okay with the conservatorship as long as her father is not involved, a source confirmed to US Weekly that Britney definitely still wants the conservatorship to end. In 2008, when the conservatorship was implemented, Britney did try to stop the conservatorship from happening, but her efforts were thwarted when the court decided that she did not have the right to choose her own counsel. Her court-appointed attorney from 2008, Samuel Ingham, has since remained her legal representative.
Earlier this week, the ACLU spoke out in support of Britney regaining her freedom. Zoe Brennan-Krohn, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project, discussed Britney, conservatorship, and why this is a disability rights issue on ACLU's radar.
Q: Can you briefly explain Britney Spears’ situation, and the implications of her conservatorship case?
Britney Spears is subject to a court-imposed conservatorship (in most other states this structure is referred to as a guardianship). This means that a court has determined she is unable to provide properly for her food, clothing, or shelter. The court has then granted other people — her conservators — the legal right to make decisions for her. News reports indicate that this has been the case for Britney since 2008. While we do not know the details of Spears’ conservatorship, in general, conservators like those in her case have the ability to make decisions about all aspects of her life — where she lives, where and how she spends her money, what medications she takes, who she spends time with, and other decisions.
Q: Why is the ACLU just weighing in on this now?
The ACLU has a long history of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities to live independent, self-directed lives as active members of their communities. Our concerns about conservatorship and guardianship are part of that commitment: ensuring that people with disabilities retain their civil rights and liberties and a belief that disabled people are protected through the exercise — rather than the removal — of these rights.
This issue is getting attention right now because of Britney Spears’ fame. But she is only one of untold thousands nationwide under or at risk of guardianship or conservatorship. The ACLU has advocated for expanding supported decision-making, an alternative to conservatorship or guardianship where people with disabilities can choose trusted support people to help them direct their lives, without court intervention or loss of civil rights.
Q: We don’t know Britney’s diagnosis or details about her particular situation. How do we know this case is a civil rights/liberties issue?
We don’t know if Britney Spears identifies herself as a person with disabilities, or what, if any, diagnoses she has received. But by virtue of being under a conservatorship, we know that the court has determined that she is disabled, and has stripped away her civil rights because of that disability. So it’s inherently a civil rights/civil liberties issue.
What we don’t know is what info the court had, what Britney has said about what she wants specifically, what other options have been tried, or what her lawyers have said. So while it’s possible that this is an example of a thoughtful conservatorship that was implemented as the last resort and is being reviewed carefully, thoroughly, and regularly, that is not the norm for conservatorships, and it appears inconsistent with what we see of Britney publicly. Our view is that in general, conservatorships should be viewed with skepticism and used as a last resort. In most cases, it’s done routinely and without substantive engagement.
Q: What would you say to people that think the conservatorship in Britney’s case is for the best? And that the risks of harm (emotional/material/physical) to herself and/or others are too high?
We don’t know all of the risks and benefits at play, so we can’t speak to the specifics of her case. But we do know that the conservatorship itself also has risks. The risks in conservatorship can include financial, physical, and emotional abuse. And even when there is no abuse, conservatorships limit a person’s ability to advocate for themselves, learn from their decisions and mistakes, and grow and develop. There is a risk in being told that your opinions, your likes and dislikes, don’t matter — it makes it harder to stand up to abuse or neglect. So in any conservatorship, including this, we would want to know that the real risks (and benefits) of both conservatorship and its alternatives have been seriously weighed.
Head to the source for answers to:
-Can you please break down, what is conservatorship? What does it mean?
-Why is conservatorship a disability rights issue?
-How do people get into conservatorships? How does conservatorship limit a person’s civil liberties/rights?
-What laws or policies exist that protect someone from a conservatorship of this kind? What would the legal process to lift the conservatorship look like?
-Are there alternatives to conservatorship that can help keep a person with a disability and others safe, without limiting their rights?
-Do ALL people with disabilities have a right to lead self-directed lives and retain their civil rights? Shouldn’t it be on a case by case determination?
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