Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Since 1972, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has advocated for the civil rights, full inclusion and equality of adults and children with mental disabilities. The Center was pivotal in expanding the civil rights movement to include fighting discrimination against, and segregation of, people with mental disabilities. Today, the Bazelon Center accomplishes its goals through a unique combination of litigation, public policy advocacy, coalition building and leadership, public education, media outreach and technical assistance—a comprehensive approach that ensures it achieves the greatest impact.

The Center employs cutting-edge litigation to effect progressive systemic change and impact public policy. The Center secured early legal precedents creating basic civil rights for people with mental disabilities—including the rights to a public education, receive services in community-based settings instead of institutions, and make decisions about one’s own care. The Center was instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990) and played a key role in the historic case of Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), in which the Supreme Court found that needless segregation of people with psychiatric disabilities violates the ADA. Over the last decade, the Center has worked to expand the reach of Olmstead to address not only unnecessary institutionalization in public facilities (psychiatric and criminal justice), but also to remedy segregation in nursing homes, board and care homes, schools and classrooms, sheltered workshops, and other day services. Its Olmstead settlement agreements have provided thousands of individuals with opportunities to move out of segregated, dead-end facilities and to live full lives in their communities. The Center has set legal precedents defining a national model of comprehensive community-based disability systems.