Rep. Matt Gaetz says the #FreeBritney movement is bigger than Britney Spears.
Mr. Gaetz said the pop singer’s legal battle to regain control of her life and her estimated $60 million fortune sheds light on an injustice suffered by Americans deemed unfit by the courts. That’s why he is leading the charge in Congress for a #FreeBritney-style rewrite of conservatorship laws, which allow a court-appointed custodian to make decisions for people deemed mentally unable to run their own lives.
“This isn’t just the gravitation to a celebrity,” Mr. Gaetz, Florida Republican, told The Washington Times. “This is a unique level of abuse incurred by a celebrity that opens the door to broader abuse that’s happening all over America.”
A recent report by the National Council on Disability estimated that at least 1.3 million Americans are under guardianship or conservatorship orders.
On June 30, Mr. Gaetz, along with GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Burgess Owens of Utah, sent a letter to Ms. Spears inviting her to testify in front of Congress over her conservatorship struggle.
“You have been mistreated by America’s legal system. We want to help,” the letter reads. “The United States Congress should hear your story and be inspired to bipartisan action.”
Ms. Spears, 39, who rose to fame in her music career in the 1990s, has been under the legal control of her father, Jamie Spears, for 12 years. A California court ordered the conservatorship following Ms. Spears’ 2008 mental breakdown that resulted in hospitalization and rehab.
The details of the conservatorship have been kept private, but Mr. Spears reportedly has legal authority over his daughter’s decisions on business deals, finances, health care and personal life.
In a June 23 testimony in her conservatorship case, Ms. Spears said that she had been overworked without breaks, forced to take medications and to wear an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy.
“It’s embarrassing and demoralizing what I’ve been through, and that’s the main reason I’ve never said it openly,” Ms. Spears said during her testimony. “I didn’t want to say it openly, because I honestly don’t think anyone would believe me.”
Ms. Spears’ conservatorship will be addressed again in court on July 14.
Mr. Gaetz linked GOP interest in the conservatorship issue to the party’s longtime support for individual rights over the “excesses” of government power, which garnered renewed attention with the backlash against coronavirus lockdowns.
“There is a healthy debate for America to have about the size and scope of government,” Mr. Gaetz said. “Government shouldn’t be able to tell a 39-year-old woman how long she has to keep her IUD in.”
In March, Mr. Gaetz, with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, asked House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, to hold a hearing on conservatorship abuse, though Mr. Gaetz said Mr. Nadler has been “very pessimistic” about prioritizing the issue.
Mr. Gaetz dismissed speculation that recent sexual misconduct allegations against him have prevented more congressional members from joining his effort to help Ms. Spears.
The three-term Congress member is currently under investigation for allegations he had sex with a minor and broke sex trafficking laws.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Jordan publicly joined the #FreeBritney effort before reports surfaced that the Justice Department was investigating Mr. Gaetz.
“When we first got involved, it was just myself and Congressman Jordan,” Mr. Gaetz said. “And now you’ve seen three other members of Congress work on this issue. So I understand that sometimes the media likes to focus on scandal more than substance, but I’ve got a job to do. And I intend to do it.”
When asked if Mr. Gaetz has any intentions to step down from his seat amid the ongoing investigation, the lawmaker cited past sexual assault allegations made against President Biden.
“As it relates to my circumstance, I have fewer named accusers than Joe Biden, and it’s been three months,” he said. “Maybe he should resign.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have rallied behind Ms. Spears’s case in some capacity, mostly sharing support on social media.
“This Britney Spears conservatorship — a word I didn’t know until yesterday — is some of the craziest [s—-] I’ve seen in a long time. Do you think Congress should investigate?” Rep. Seth Moulton, Massachusetts Democrat, tweeted last month.
Rep. Katherine Clark, another Massachusetts Democrat, invoked the hashtag #FreeBritney in a tweet that shortly followed her June testimony.
“Everyone deserves control over their own body. Period,” Ms. Clark said.
Mr. Gaetz said he is in the process of working on legislation with Mr. Owens that would create a federal cause of action for people who are abused in conservatorship or guardianship.
“There is still a lot of work to do regarding what remedies that cause of action could generate,” Mr. Gaetz said. “Initial ideas include the right for an independent audit, and the right for guardianships to have a sunset. And then obviously, certain rights that Congress values [such as] voting rights, rights to make one’s own decision about their health care.”
The lawmaker said he’s seen concerns raised by some members based on geography, such as in Arizona and Florida where there is a large elderly population.
Mr. Owens, who is from Utah, said he had a firsthand look at how legal relationships can exploit vulnerable people, which prompted him to get involved.
“If there are any steps that Congress can take, we want to try, even if that is listening and using our voices to advocate for those potentially mistreated by our country’s legal system,” Mr. Owens said in a statement to the Deseret News.
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