ACLU Uses Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Case as a Way to Discuss a Disability Legal Issues
Legendary pop singer Britney Spears is currently in the news because she’s asking a California court to keep her father, Jamie Spears, from being her conservator and having broad control over her life decisions and career. The ACLU has taken this opportunity to discuss what conservatorship is and how it affects people with disabilities.
Zoe Brennan-Krohn, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project, broke down what exactly conservatorship is and explained that while she does not know the details pertaining specifically to Spears’ situation, there are still legal implications we can infer.
Spears has been under court-imposed conservatorship since 2008, which, according to Brennan-Krohn, means that she is “unable to provide properly for her food, clothing, or shelter,” and the court has then granted other people the legal right to make decisions for her. Conservatorship like this is usually applied to people with certain disabilities including, but not limited to, psychiatric disabilities, developmental or intellectual disabilities, and age-related disabilities:
“Conservatorship means the court is taking away the civil liberties from one person and giving them to someone else. Sometimes it’s ALL of that person’s civil rights and civil liberties, and sometimes it’s partial. But it is the court weighing into the person’s life and saying you, as a person with a disability, are no longer able to make decisions about yourself and livelihood — such as where you live, and how you support and feed yourself — and we are putting someone else in charge of making those decisions. Because it’s such an extreme step to take, it’s really supposed to be a last resort. And once a court has put a person under a conservatorship, only a court can lift that conservatorship.”
Despite the fact that we have all unfortunately witnessed Britney Spears’ mental health issues, due to her being a very famous person, I can admit I hadn’t really thought of her as someone with a disability. As someone with mental illness, I tend to treat it as a character flaw within myself rather than fully acknowledging how it impacts my own life.
The #FreeBritney movement has been going on for a while, and it may therefore be perplexing as to why an organization like the ACLU would chime in, but this is an opportunity for us, as a society, to acknowledge how laws impact disabled people. Brennan-Krohn brings up that this can be seen as part of “society’s paternalism and infantilization of people with disabilities.”
If Britney Spears still needs someone to play the role of guardian, then it should be someone that she trusts, and if she asking for a change, that should be honored. Spears is a living icon and worth millions of dollars. Her guardian doesn’t just have power over her; they have power over that money, and that responsibility should be handled carefully.
(via ACLU, image: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
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