HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Thursday, October 7, 2021

#FreeBritney: Why Indefinite Conservatorships are Unconstitutional

Marissa Cohen (Emory University), #FreeBritney: Why Indefinite Conservatorships are Unconstitutional, SSRN (2021):

Popstar Britney Spears, now in her 30s, has fewer legal rights than a child and far less than those of a woman. This article uses the case of Britney Spears to shine a light on conservatorships and reveal that a conservatorship can stifle the civil liberties of someone so young as Spears. Part 1 of this article is an overview of the facts of Spears’ case. Part II provides a synopsis of the legal purposes and basic operations of conservatorships. Part III argues that conservatorships which control so much of an individual’s life, as in the case of Spears, are unconstitutional because they not only deprive the person of their due process rights but also robs them of most of their inalienable rights. Part IV draws lessons from the unique context of criminal confinement and the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding life without parole for juvenile offenders. These criminal law procedures, specifically in the Miller factors from Miller v. Alabama, would reduce the likelihood of false positives (i.e., overly restrictive conservatorships and conservatorships imposed on those who are highly functioning). The proposal to limit conservatorships by applying the Miller factors will alleviate administrative burdens placed on courts and enhance individual liberties. Part IV connects Spears’ case and restrictive conservatorships to recent legal developments such as the intensifying abortion laws and recent Supreme Court decisions regarding criminal sentencing for young persons. This section looks at the trends in the law and the likelihood of change in a case like Spears’. Part V laments that despite the need for changes in cases like Spears’, the current legal atmosphere seems unwilling to embrace reform. Yet, with the public exposure to these legal issues and specifically, how Spears shows that these issues can happen to anyone, there is hope for change.

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