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California Supreme Court rejects lawsuit challenging Newsom’s plan to treat mental illness

two men in suits, one speaking while the other looks on
CARE Court is Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sweeping plan to compel treatment for thousands of Californians struggling with diagnosed mental illness and addiction.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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The California Supreme Court this week declined to block the rollout of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sweeping new plan to compel people with severe mental illness into treatment, meaning the controversial program remains on track to begin this fall in several counties.

Earlier this year, a coalition of disability and civil rights groups asked the state’s high court to strike down as unconstitutional Newsom’s program known as CARE Court (for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment), claiming that it violated due process and equal protection rights.

Disability and civil rights advocates want to stop California’s new CARE Court system from launching later this year.

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The court rejected the request on Wednesday without issuing an opinion.

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Andy Imparato, executive director of Disability Rights California, one of the main organizations that filed the lawsuit, called the decision “disappointing.”

“It’s not surprising, but it’s frustrating,” he said. “There’s a vulnerable population here whose rights don’t seem to matter to these powerful political forces.”

Supporters of CARE Court say it will revolutionize California’s approach to treating those with a diagnosed psychotic disorder and addiction, many of whom are also homeless. Once implemented, the program will allow family members, behavioral health providers and medical professionals, among others, to petition a judge to order an evaluation and, if warranted, a treatment plan that might include medication and housing.

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The same groups that filed the lawsuit opposed CARE Court from the start, saying it would infringe on personal liberties and arguing that forced treatment is not effective.

In a statement, Newsom said the ruling ensures that CARE Court’s implementation won’t be delayed and that the state remains on track to launch the program this fall. Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus, Glenn and Tuolumne counties have until Oct. 1 to begin implementation, with Los Angeles County on track to join two months later. The rest of the state has until December 2024.

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Los Angeles County is poised to join the first wave of counties to launch a sweeping new mental health plan pushed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

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“This ruling holds significant importance for thousands of Californians and their families experiencing untreated serious mental illness and substance use disorders,” Newsom said. “The CARE Act was passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support from the Legislature, and has been endorsed by a broad coalition of partners committed to implementing this transformative initiative in communities across California.”

The Supreme Court’s choice not to intervene could complicate future legal challenges to the program, considering it’s the state’s highest court and lower courts will be aware of the decision. Imparato acknowledged that taking the suit straight to the state Supreme Court was a “creative,” albeit “low-probability” legal strategy, and said his coalition will continue looking for other ways to block the program.

It will carefully monitor CARE Court’s rollout this fall, Imparato said, and consider filing legal challenges in trial courts on a case-by-case basis on behalf of individuals in the program.

“We will look at opportunities to stop bad things from happening and can definitely go back to the courts at that point,” Imparato said. “We have lots of options.”

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