JACKSON, Miss. (HPD) — The US Justice Department overstepped its bounds in suing the state of Mississippi over its mental health system, the state’s attorney general argued in a federal appeals court.
A Justice Department attorney countered that there is ample precedent showing that the federal agency has the power to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard arguments from both sides in New Orleans on Wednesday. The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that conservative court justices seemed receptive to the idea of limiting Justice Department intervention.
A ruling against the Department could ultimately take the matter to the US Supreme Court, a case that could have national implications.
The federal government issued a letter in 2011 saying Mississippi had done too little to provide mental health services outside of psychiatric hospitals. The Justice Department sued Mississippi in 2016, saying the state violated federal law by confining people with mental illness to state hospitals instead of providing community services.
US District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in 2019 that the Mississippi government had violated the ADA by having inadequate resources in communities to care for people with mental illness.
Mississippi Attorney General Scott Stewart—the same attorney who argued an abortion case before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade—assured the appeals panel Wednesday that since Judge Reeves’ ruling, the state has improved its mental health system. Stewart argued that limiting the federal government’s ability to intervene in the system is important because lawsuits can cost states thousands of dollars.