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. We were 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 we achieve the greatest impact.

We employ cutting-edge litigation to effect progressive systemic change and impact public policy.  We 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, we have 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. Our 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. We have set legal precedents defining a national model of comprehensive community-based disability systems.


The mission of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is to protect and advance the civil rights of adults and children with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities.  We envision a society where Americans with mental disabilities live with autonomy, dignity, and opportunity in welcoming communities, supported by law, policy, and practices that help them reach their full potential.



The Bazelon Center engages in cutting-edge litigation to effect progressive systemic change and impact public policy.  Our cases seek to protect and expand legal rights, consumer choice, access to services, and autonomy for people with mental disabilities.  We frequently work on cases with private lawyers, legal services programs, ACLU chapters, and state protection and advocacy systems.


The Bazelon Center provides technical assistance to attorneys and others working to protect and expand the legal rights of people with mental disabilities.  In limited cases, we also provide representation to individuals facing discrimination or a denial of needed services.  If you wish to obtain technical or legal assistance from the Bazelon Center, contact us.


The Bazelon Center pursues a progressive mental health policy agenda, particularly at the federal level, to reform systems and programs to protect the rights of children and adults with mental disabilities to lead lives with dignity in the community. Policy staff promote these goals in federal legislation and regulation, policy analysis and research, and technical assistance to state and local advocates.