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President Biden’s Nominees for Justice Department Positions Related to Mental Health

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On Wednesday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts in Washington, D.C.

President Biden has nominated several people for United States Department of Justice (DOJ) positions related to mental health. This is particularly relevant since Mississippi is in the midst of responding to a DOJ lawsuit about the state’s mental health system that Mississippi lost. Below is background information about these nominees, as well as some information on their stances related to the rights of people with disabilities.

Judge Merrick Garland – Nominee for Attorney General

Judge Merrick Garland - Attorney General nomineeJudge Garland is a veteran of the Justice Department. He first served in the department as a special assistant in President Jimmy Carter’s administration and returned to the department in 1989 as an assistant U.S. attorney. In 1993, he became a deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s criminal division and then was promoted to be a top aide to the deputy attorney general.

He was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and he was confirmed in 1997. He became chief judge of the panel in 2013.

This is one article that describes’ Judge Garland’s stances in disability rights cases.

Vanita Gupta-Nominee for Associate Attorney General

Vanita Gupta - Associate Attorney General NomineeMs. Gupta led the civil rights division at the DOJ during the Obama administration. She would be the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general. Gupta served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department in former President Barack Obama’s administration when Biden was the vice president.

Ms. Gupta spoke with Families as Allies’ staff in person one time during her previous DOJ appointment. The legal actions still included children at the time we visited with her.  We shared with her our concern about the State’s slow pace of response to the findings of Mississippi’s mental health system while people with mental illness, including children, actively suffered without services, and what seemed to be the DOJ’s equally slow response to the state’s inaction.  We also shared that no meaningful remedy was possible unless it was crafted in partnership with people receiving services and their families. She acknowledged the importance of these points.

Kristen Clarke-Nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

Kristen Clarke - Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights NomineeMs. Clarke is the president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Clarke got her start as a civil rights attorney within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and previously headed the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where she focused on LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality, disability rights, reproductive access, redlining, and other justice-oriented issues.

If you would like to know more about President Biden’s stance on mental health and disability issues during the campaign, you can go to the disability rights page on his campaign website. That page lists the following goals related to disability rights and mental health:
  • Ensure full inclusion of people with disabilities in policy development and aggressively enforce the civil rights of people with disabilities.
  • Guarantee access to high-quality, affordable health care, including mental health care, and expand access to home and community-based services and long-term services and supports in the most integrated setting appropriate to each person’s needs and based on self-determination.
  • Expand competitive, integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
  • Protect and strengthen economic security for people with disabilities.
  • Ensure that students with disabilities have access to educational programs and support they need to succeed, from early interventions to post-secondary education.
  • Expand access to accessible, integrated, and affordable housing, transportation, and assistive technologies and protect people with disabilities in emergencies. 
  • Advance global disability rights.

[Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash]

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