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The Supreme Court says it will decide whether Virginia's advocate for the mentally ill can force state officials to provide records relating to deaths and injuries at state mental health facilities.

The justices agreed Monday to review a federal appeals court ruling dismissing the state advocate's lawsuit against Virginia's mental health commissioner and two other officials.

Backing the appeal, the Obama administration said the ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond "threatens to undermine the enforcement of federal laws that Congress designed to protect especially vulnerable individuals from the abusive and neglectful practices that can result in injury and death."

The Virginia advocate's office, like those in the other 49 states, was created under two federal laws that give states federal money for monitoring the treatment of the mentally ill in state facilities. The first law grew out of public reports in the 1970s of crowded, filthy conditions and abusive treatment of mentally retarded children at the Willowbrook State School in New York.

The issue for the court is whether the Eleventh Amendment prohibits a state agency from going to federal court to sue officials of the same state. The state itself could not be sued in the same circumstances.


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