GOP lawmakers cite ‘Free Britney’ movement to request a congressional hearing on court-mandated conservatorships

Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, left, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, right. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
  • Two GOP congressmen requested a congressional hearing on court-mandated conservatorships.
  • Reps. Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz cited the “Free Britney” movement in a letter on Tuesday.
  • Spears’ circumstances suggest “questionable motives and legal tactics” by her father, they said.
  • Gaetz told Insider the Spears documentary on Hulu “substantially” drove his decision to request a hearing.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Two Republican congressmen on the House Judiciary Committee asked the panel’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, to hold a hearing on court-ordered conservatorships, citing the “Free Britney” movement.

The movement refers to the singer Britney Spears, who was the subject of The New York Times documentary, “Framing Britney Spears.” The film is streamed on Hulu and examines the pop star’s 13-year fight for control of her estate after a court placed her under a conservatorship, essentially stripping her of the right to her own fortune and placing it in Spears’ father’s control.

“In recent years, there has been growing public concern about the use of conservatorships to effectively deprive individuals of personal freedoms at the behest of others through the manipulation of the courts,” the letter from Reps. Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz said. “A project funded by the US Department of Justice to examine conservator exploitation found that ‘financial exploitation by conservators often goes unchecked by courts’ and there is a ‘dire need for guardianship/conservatorship reform.'”

-Alayna Treene (@alaynatreene) March 9, 2021

The letter went on to note that the American Civil Liberties Union recently said conservatorships “should be viewed with skepticism and used as a last resort,” but that in most cases, they’re imposed “routinely and without substantive engagement.”

The practice paves the way for individuals to be “stripped of virtually all of their civil rights through guardianships and conservatorships,” the ACLU said, and reforms should be implemented so these individuals can “direct their own lives.”

“The most striking example is perhaps the case of multi-platinum performing artist Britney Spears,” Jordan and Gaetz’s letter said, adding that “since 2008, Ms. Spears has been under a court-ordered conservatorship.”

“The facts and circumstances giving rise to this arrangement remain in dispute but involve questionable motives and legal tactics by her father and now-conservator, Jamie Spears,” it continued. The letter also cited Daniel Gross, a Long Island resident who was involuntarily placed under a conservatorship and kept in a nursing home for 10 months before being released in 2006.

“In what the judge labeled as ‘a terrible miscarriage of justice,’ Mr. Gross was locked in a Connecticut nursing home for 10 months despite his pleas for release,” Jordan and Gaetz’s letter said. “Given the constitutional freedoms at stake and opaqueness of these arrangements, it is incumbent upon our Committee to convene a hearing to examine whether Americans are trapped unjustly in conservatorships.”

Gaetz told Insider on Tuesday that the Spears documentary “substantially” informed his decision to request the hearing.

“After seeing the Britney Spears documentary, I reached out to a number of policy experts … to refresh my understanding of the federal due process implications,” he said. “I’m very familiar with the issue as a Floridian. I served on the judiciary committee in the Florida House of Representatives, and we have a lot of elderly people that get taken advantage of in the guardianship process.”

“The Britney Spears interest level could help us convene on broader reforms that could help a lot of my constituents,” he added.

Asked what reforms he’s seeking, Gaetz said, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, obviously, what I’m seeking is a hearing to discuss things, but among the constellation of ideas would be a ward’s Bill of Rights that would allow wards opportunity for financial audits of the estate. Also, the opportunity for review. Right now, a lot of these conservatorships and guardianships don’t have review.”

He continued: “Voting is another issue that struck me in my research. A lot of wards don’t have the right to vote. I don’t think Britney can vote. The House Judiciary Committee is where people come together to discuss how reforms interface with people’s rights. That’s what I’m hoping Chairman Nadler will agree to.”

Joseph Zeballos-Roig contributed reporting.