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#FreeBritney: Lawmakers request House Judiciary hearing on conservatorship, Britney Spears

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On Monday, Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) requesting that the committee hold a hearing on court-ordered conservatorships, specifically mentioning the ongoing controversy surrounding pop star Britney Spears’s father holding conservatorship over her.

In the letter, GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio), explaining the Spears situation, stated their concerns regarding “constitutional freedoms” in the case.

“The ACLU is concerned that individuals are being ‘stripped of virtually all of their civil rights through guardianships and conservatorships’ and has called for the exploration of reforms to ensure that unnecessary conservatorships can be terminated so these individuals may ‘direct their own lives,'” the letter began. “The most striking example is perhaps the case of multi-platinum performing artist Britney Spears.”

“Since 2008, Ms. Spears has been under a court-ordered conservatorship,” the letter added. “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.”

“In court appearances in August and November of 2020, Ms. Spears’ attorney represented to the court that that Ms. Spears ‘strongly opposed’ having her father as a conservator, that she was afraid of her father, and that she would not again perform publicly so long as this arrangement persisted,” the letter continued. “Despite these pleas, Mr. Spears remains a conservator of her estate. Despite Mr. Spears’s claiming to want nothing more than to see Ms. Spears ‘not need a conservatorship,’ his attorney admitted in a recent documentary, ‘Of the cases I’ve been involved in, I have not seen a conservatee who has successfully terminated a conservatorship.'”

“Given the constitutional freedoms at stake and opaqueness of these arrangements,” the letter concluded, “it is incumbent upon our Committee to convene a hearing to examine whether Americans are trapped unjustly in conservatorships.”

Over the past couple of years, many fans of the world-famous pop star have been speculating that Spears was essentially being held captive by her father and that she needed to be rescued, with many of her fans calling for her emancipation have been using #FreeBritney hashtag.

However, the #FreeBritney movement picked up a ton of momentum last month, when The New York Times released a documentary on Netflix titled “The Framing of Britney Spears”, which the letter to Nadler referenced, that chronicled Spears’s successes and struggles and set the internet aflame.

The documentary prompted celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler to call for Spears’s emancipation. Justin Timberlake, Spears’s former boyfriend, also put out an apology for allowing the media to engage in misogyny against her after their tumultuous breakup two decades ago.

Subsequently on February 11, one week after the documentary’s release, the Los Angeles Superior Court placed the financial company Bessemer Trust in an equal partnership with Spears’s father, as the pop star had requested.

For a more detailed explanation and breakdown of the #FreeBritney situation, read Vox’s explainer piece here.

Gaetz retweeted the letter Tuesday afternoon, saying, “Congress can #FreeBritney and @RepJerryNadler has the power to convene a needed hearing on conservatorship due process.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Minnesota farmer’s lawsuit prompts removal of race and sex-based grant program

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Five months after Minnesota farmer Lance Nistler filed a federal lawsuit with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), the state has removed race- and sex-based preferences from its Down Payment Assistance Grant Program. This significant policy change followed Nistler’s legal challenge, which highlighted the discriminatory nature of the program’s selection process.

Pacific Legal Foundation writes involvement in Nistler’s case drew attention and criticism from Minnesota progressives. Writing in the Minnesota Reformer, Sigrid Jewett accused PLF of using Nistler “as a pawn in a larger culture war game.” She questioned why a California-based legal firm with numerous Supreme Court victories would be interested in representing a small Minnesota farmer pro bono.

PLF opposes all race- and sex-based preferences in the law, and that’s the real reason the firm chose to represent Nistler. The foundation stands against discrimination in various domains, including government board selections, school admissions, government contracts, and grant distributions, such as in Nistler’s case.

Here are the facts: Minnesota’s Down Payment Assistance Grant Program offers up to $15,000 toward the purchase of farmland. Recipients are chosen through a lottery system. However, before the policy change, even if a recipient was among the first picked through the lottery—as Nistler was, being selected ninth—they could be bumped to the back of the line if they were not a racial minority, female, LGBTQIA+, or otherwise designated as an “emerging” farmer by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Despite being chosen ninth in the lottery, which awarded grants to 68 applicants, Nistler did not receive a grant. He was moved from ninth to 102nd on the waitlist because he is a white male.

Nistler grew up on his family farm, milking cows. “They would lose money every year,” he says of the family operation. After he left for school, his family sold the cows and switched to farming soybeans, oats, and wheat. Lance’s father and uncle now run the farm, but they’re getting older. Lance, who has a degree in electronic engineering and worked in HVAC, is interested in buying a 40-acre chunk of the family farm, becoming the fourth-generation farmer in his family.

The land isn’t just going to be given to Lance. This is a working farm, and the Nistlers aren’t a wealthy family that can transfer land from one generation to the next without consideration. “My dad and uncle, they don’t have 401(k)s or anything,” Lance says. “I mean, the land and the equipment, that’s their retirement. This stuff isn’t given away. I’m not just going to get it handed down to me and inherited. It has to be purchased, and it is not cheap.”

Despite being from a farming family, Lance considers himself a new farmer—he has never owned farmland before, and he has an electronics background. Buying these 40 acres would be a huge step for Lance, planting him firmly in the farming world, which is what Minnesota’s grant program aimed to do. The idea that he would have qualified as an emerging farmer if only his skin were a different color struck Lance as wrong.

“The country we live in, the idea is it’s equal opportunity for everyone,” he says. “And if that’s what it is, then well, why shouldn’t I have the same chances?”

When Lance filed his lawsuit in January, the complaint argued that the discriminatory process violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The complaint stated:

“Nistler brings this lawsuit to vindicate his constitutional right to equal protection of the law. He brings it to give all Minnesotans a fair chance at a difference-making grant program. He brings it in the hope that he will be able to own that small farm in the near future. He brings it because he is not giving up on his dream.”

In May, after Lance called attention to the unconstitutional policy, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed legislation removing the race and sex prioritization from the program. Now, Minnesota will treat farmers equally—as the Constitution promises.

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