Civil Rights Groups Sue to Stop Newsom’s CARE Court Program

Civil rights groups filed suit in CA Supreme Court against Newsom’s CARE plan, arguing it robs the most vulnerable people of their autonomy

A coalition of three civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit on Thursday urging the California Supreme Court to put the brakes on Governor Gavin Newsom’s Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE Court) program, arguing that it robs at-risk citizens of their right to make their own decisions about where they live and how they manage their own healthcare.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, in suing to halt the program, Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and the Public Interest Law Project have aligned with the ACLU and several other racial and civil rights groups, homeless advocates and affordable housing organizations that tried to block the measure, which was signed into law last September.

“The proposed solution is court orders that rob unhoused Californians of their autonomy to choose their own mental health treatment and housing and threatens their liberty,” the lawsuit states. “This ‘solution’ will not work and will deprive thousands of people of their constitutional rights.”

A funding measure has set aside $88 million to begin the program, which will be rolled out in two stages: Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus, Glenn and Tuolumne counties have until Oct. 1 to begin implementation; Los Angeles County must begin to launch CARE courts by December 2024. Newsom included an additional $52 million for the program in this year’s budget, with plans to ramp up funding by $215 million by fiscal year 2025-2026.

The new law was intended to allow family members, first responders, medical professionals, and behavioral health providers, among others, to petition a judge to order an evaluation of an adult with a diagnosed psychotic disorder. Qualified individuals would be able to receive medication, treatment, and housing under CARE. Newsom and supporters of the Care Courts have maintained that this plan is different from more controversial and controlling conservatorship, as people could still technically refuse treatment, according to the Times.

In a statement, Newsom’s deputy communications director, Daniel Lopez, said efforts to slow or stop the law’s implementation “would needlessly extend the suffering of those who desperately need our help.”

The issue of a human autonomy was not a priority in the statement from Newsom’s office, which continues, “The governor — along with the majority of Californians — are beyond frustrated by the conditions seen daily on our streets. There’s nothing compassionate about allowing individuals with severe, untreated mental health and substance use disorders to suffer in our alleyways, in our criminal justice system, or worse — face death.”

Newsom’s release further poo-poo’ed the importance of personal choice, stating, “While some groups want to delay progress with arguments in favor of the failing status quo, the rest of us are dealing with the cold, hard reality that something must urgently be done to address this crisis.”

Should the state Supreme Court decline to hear the case, the plaintiffs can still sue in a lower court. Disability Rights California attorney Sarah Gregory told the Times that her group “has considered all options on the table since the beginning and it will continue to consider all options depending on what the Supreme Court decides.”

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