The US Supreme Court made a very good decision recently. The story is found in an AP release, Court reinstates Va. mental health lawsuit.
The Supreme Court says Virginia’s advocate for the mentally ill can sue to force state officials to provide records relating to deaths and injuries at state mental health facilities.
What was going on here?
The Virginia mental health commissioner was trying to hamstring the state’s protection and advocacy agency by refusing to hand over information pertinent to human rights violations in that state. The state, in the person of the commissioner, was trying to use 11th Amendment of the US Constitution, an amendment designed to protect one state from intrusive actions on the part of another state, to justify not submitting to such a suit.
VOPA, Virginia’s protection and advocacy agency, can’t do its job if it’s denied access to information.
Protection and advocacy agencies are oversight agencies that were federally mandated after an uproar arose over institutional mistreatment during the 1970s.
The justices, in a 6-2 ruling Tuesday, reinstated the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy lawsuit against Virginia’s mental health commissioner and two other officials.
This was the right decision to come to, and our Supreme Court justices deserve praise for arriving at it.
The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., had dismissed the state advocate’s lawsuit. The issue for the court was whether the Eleventh Amendment prohibits a state agency from going to federal court to sue officials of the same state.
This decision sets a precedent that is bound to help other states better protect their citizens in institutional settings from harm and abuse as well.