Feb. 27, 2001 --
Yesterday, Monday, Feb. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court "turned aside, without comment" a case that could have continued their recent assault on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The case, United States v. Snyder (00-554) was a case involving whether states should be immune from lawsuits that allege discrimination under Title II of the ADA, the Title that prohibits discrimination by states and local governments in the provision of services.
The Snyder case, from Illinois, "arose from claims by convicted burglar John Walker that Illinois prison authorities did not make adequate accommodation for his partial blindness, in violation of the 1990 law. He wanted books on tape, a very brightly lit cell and transfer to a less restrictive prison," wrote AP reporter Anne Gearan in her story yesterday.
"A federal court partly agreed with Walker's discrimination claims, but eventually threw out his suit. Last year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals directed that the case be dismissed on 11th Amendment grounds" -- ruling that "Congress lacked authority to enact the ADA."
That legal point about the 11th Amendment was the issue in last Wednesday's Supreme Court Garrett decision, in which the Court ruled 5-4 that state employees can no longer sue their employers for money damages under the ADA -- a ruling against Title I of the ADA -- at least part of Title I.
In Garrett v. Alabama, the Court ruled that the ADA could not empower state employees to seek money damages from their State employer. However, the ruling preserved the employees' right to sue for injunctive relief.
The ruling does not bar suits initiated by federal enforcement agencies for money damages. The ruling likewise does not bar individual suits for money damages against private employers or local governments. In the Garrett decision the Supreme Court also explicitly declined to rule on Title II, and yesterday they seemed to cement that reluctance.
"What this means is that we can still bring suits against state governments for injunctive relief, just not for damages" said Amy Robertson, a disability rights attorney in Denver. "That means we can still sue to force them to comply with the ADA. So it would be incorrect after this decision to state that the ADA has been held unconstitutional against states. It means that Titles I and II are now more like Title III: you can sue to force change, but cannot get damages."
Matthew Diller, professor of law at Fordham University in New York, said "The decision does not say that the states are no longer bound by Title I, but only that individuals can't sue under Title I for damages."
In its Garrett decision, the Court virtually ignored the extensive record of discrimination by states against people with disabilities. As Justice Breyer so aptly noted in his dissenting opinion, "the legislative record bears out Congress' finding that the adverse treatment of person with disabilities was often arbitrary or invidious. . . " 'It is difficult to see how the Court can find the legislative record here inadequate. . . the record indicates that state governments subjected those with disabilities to seriously adverse, disparate treatment..."
The Court's ruling once again revealed its lack of understanding of what it means to be disabled in America," says Center for An Accessible Society Deputy Director William G. Stothers.
"Discrimination remains pervasive. People with disabilities remain on the margins of life, denied opportunities for education and employment in the public as well as the private sector. Congress catalogued the shameful history of discrimination against people with disabilities beyond question. The Supreme Court resorted to legalism of the worst sort to discount that history."
The Center's website at http://www.accessiblesociety.org has more about the Garrett decision.