Home » OPINION » Columns » BILL CRAWFORD — Federal overreach impacts Mississippi

BILL CRAWFORD — Federal overreach impacts Mississippi



The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was passed to eliminate unjustified discrimination based on disability. It provides protections against discrimination to disabled Americans, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.

Now, the U.S. Department of Justice is telling Mississippi the ADA provides mentally ill adults an unconstrained constitutional right to community-based services.
Forced school desegregation was implemented by federal courts to eliminate illegal discrimination based on race. States that had passed laws requiring segregation by race have seen their school districts face decades of court ordered desegregation plans.
Now, in Cleveland, Mississippi, the U.S. Department of Justice has gotten a new federal judge to rule that students have a “constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education.”
Both of these cases represent overreach by the federal government, particularly by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Hopefully, seasoned federal judges will see fit to rein in such excess.
In 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “unjustified isolation” of mentally ill individuals “is properly regarded as discrimination based on disability.”  The Olmstead ruling further said the state must provide community-based mental health services when they “can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the entity and the needs of other persons with disabilities.” The key words here are “unjustified” and “resources available.”
Since 2011 the DOJ has been pushing the state to shift its emphasis and funding from state mental institutions to community-based services. While the state has built a system of community-based mental health services, most of its limited funding still goes for institutional care. The Legislature’s PEER Committee has reported several times the state would need to do more to comply with Olmstead.
In August, DOJ filed suit to force the state to comply. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch proclaimed that “Mississippi has failed people with mental illness, violating their civil rights by confining them in isolating institutions.” 
Notably, the lawsuit avoids addressing the “resources available” requirement. Instead it argues that since the state provides a lower proportion of funding to community-based care than other states, it is discriminating against the mentally ill. 
The Cleveland desegregation case came before U.S. District Judge Debra M. Brown who was appointed to the federal bench in 2013 after 16 years practicing commercial law. In her ruling, Judge Brown forthrightly ignored prior orders by distinguished judges William C. Keady, Glen H. Davidson, and L.T. Senter to determine that Cleveland’s freedom of choice school desegregation plans were unconstitutional. She showed great deference to the arguments of DOJ expert Clare Smrekar, but little to the local school district or its expert Christine Rossell, despite guidance by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that she should as much as possible “defer to the District’s plans.”
Should Judge Brown’s new constitutional right take root, many schools and some universities face consolidation. Cleveland has appealed her ruling.
While Mississippi needs to do better in many ways, federal overreach is not the answer.
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)


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  1. Bill, just last week you said for MS to go get all the federal dollars it could. Now you’re complaining about too much federal involvement in MS. Pick one.

  2. The problem is that there are not enough community based facilities to accommodate the need. The waiting list is currently 5 to 8 years to access a facility. Ellisville is not taking new patients due to the change, so individuals with disabilities are stuck in limbo.

  3. Good comment, Jeff Pittman. If MS wants to secede, i expect the Feds would be happy to let it go and save the $.

  4. This Judge, with due deference, seems to march to the beat of a different drummer in many instances – not just the two you discuss.

  5. I’m unimpressed when I see our state de/under-fund mental health services at the local level, then complain that they can’t afford to attend to basic care. I’m also unimpressed when I hear a constant call to let us handle things locally, demanding that the Feds stay out of our business. Our state has a long and rich history of failing the neediest of our children. I agree that it is hard to afford for things and simultaneously, systematically abandon required, humane levels of care.

    I’ve lived and worked in Mississippi long enough to know exactly how well this sort of de-prioritization has helped our business climate fare. What we have gained by giving short shrift to the least among us is a reputation for the exact things we’ve done.

  6. The “available resources” plainly exist here. But the bourbon Republican government will not retrieve them from the corporations and upper income residents on the long-discredited premise that low taxes and low quality public services grows economies. In truth, lack of investment in job-creating infrastructure (which includes the building of a good mental health service) keeps wages and numbers of jobs stagnant while corporations and the rich invest their money out of state.

    Bankrupt economic policy results in poor quality of life. Lack of quality education infrastructure discourages companies from setting up here and startups from sprouting.

    The evangelical insistence on punishing the poor, the sick, the young and the old for falling afoul of the prosperity gospel also contributes to the unwillingness of Republican politicians to invest in our people.

    It will take a long-term culture change, led by young people, to remedy so much of what consigns so much of the state to fourth-world status.

  7. In addition, it is extremely bad for business for Mississippi to continue to cling to the lack of “available resources” argument. Why can’t business writers like Crawford see this? Continued belief in the irrational belief that low government investment and low taxes is the only way to prosperity and that it works every time and every place.

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