National Lawyers Guild supports fight of D.C. disabled to defend rights
Kim Cree, whose lawyer had to intervene when a D.C. agency tried to move her from her longtime group home. | J.F. Meils / CityPaper via the Office of Councilmember Robert White

WASHINGTON—The Disability Rights Committee of the National Lawyers Guild has passed resolution opposing Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed City Council bill B22-0154. The legislation would abolish the 1978 “Mentally Retarded Citizens Constitutional Rights and Dignity Act.”

In 1978, the disabled of D.C. forced the Constitutional Rights Act upon the city as a result of litigation they brought in U.S. District Court. In that litigation, they complained of being drugged up, unemployed, and impoverished. The Act created the Habilitation Branch of the Superior Court as their protector. Over the years, they have used that court to help them obtain employment, secure normal family relations, and limit the use of the psychotropic and seizure medication which the city and its Medicaid contractors promote as a substitute for full-employment and a meaningful life.

Before and after its loss, as the judiciary has complained, the city did not acknowledge its abuse and has resisted Habilitation Branch oversight, including seeking D.C. City Council legislation in 2002, 2009, 2016, and now 2017 to abolish the court and its panel of 25 court-appointed attorney-advocates.

The NLG Disability Rights Committee, in condemning B22-0154, points out that Bowser does not list her neoliberal reluctance to spend money on social services as an argument against Habilitation Branch oversight. Rather than admitting she is seeking to circumvent the city’s responsibility to and on behalf of individualities with disabilities, and by extension, society at large, Mayor Bowser argues that the 1978 Act’s civil commitment system to the city deprives the disabled of their liberty. To this, the Guild has responded that the only liberty which she seeks is freedom to impose a starvation agenda.

Bowser’s bill, which she cynically labels as the “Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2017,” does not in fact seek to abolish the system of involuntary commitment of the disabled as city wards. The bill retains the commitment system but in the Probate Division. Unlike the Habilitation Branch, which is governed by the 1978 Act, the Probate Division is controlled by the city’s Medicaid contractors. The contractors depend on the Probate Division to legitimize, through their system of medical guardians, the involuntary drugging of the disabled.

In other words, while Mayor Bowser speaks of wanting to liberate the disabled from judicial commitment, as in the Habilitation Branch, she depends on judicial commitment in the Probate Division to restrain their rebellion against their meaningless lifestyle forced on them by the city. The resolution, which was passed by the Disability Rights Committee on Oct. 24 and is now before the full NLG National Executive Council for consideration, notes that the proposed Bill 22-0154 is a “sibling” to the neoliberal drive to privatize Social Security, to privatize public education with vouchers, to replace free higher education with school loans, and to substitute “consumer directed” insurance company-dominated health care for free universal health care.

The resolution praises the achievement of D.C.’s disabled the achievement of D.C.’s disabled in obtaining the Habilitation Court and points out that “there is a need in every jurisdiction for a specialized court focusing on Developmental Disability issues, given the history of the U.S.”

It sums up that the disabled have found the city to be the enemy of their rights for the past 40 years. The Habilitation Branch, by contrast, has been their ally against the city.

What the disabled want from the City Council is gainful employment and an end to being drugged up, not an attack on their judicial allies.