Dec. 23, 2003 --
"The Americans with Disabilities Act is critical to fighting discrimination, but states like Tennessee keep trying to knock its teeth out," says Harvard Law School's Samuel Bagenstos. Bagenstos is the author of the brief filed by three dozen disability groups in the Title 2 ADA case Tennessee v. Lane. The Justices will hear the case Jan. 13.
Plaintiffs George Lane and Beverly Jones sued Tennessee for failing to ensure that courthouses are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Both plaintiffs were denied access to courtrooms on the second floors of buildings lacking elevators. Beverly Jones worked as a court reporter; George Lane was a defendant in a criminal case. "The state arrested Lane for 'failure to appear' when he refused to crawl or be carried up the stairs," says the Bazelon Center, which is one of the groups filing the court brief in support of the two disabled people.
Lane and Jones filed suit under Title 2 of the ADA in 1998. "The Tennessee Attorney General moved to dismiss the case on sovereign immunity grounds, arguing that Congress did not have the authority to subject the state of Tennessee to suit. The U.S. District Court denied the state's motion and ruled that the case could go forward. The Tennessee Attorney General appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed the trial court's decision, and again said that the case could proceed. The Tennessee Attorney General then appealed again - this time to the United States Supreme Court. Five years after filing their lawsuit, Lane and Jones have yet to have their day in court," says the Bazelon Center.
"The wrong ruling in this case could rob people with disabilities of one of the most important means to enforce their rights and call into question the very notion that the federal government has the power to make states respect those rights," says Bagenstos.
"What the court will decide in this case might well be the gutting of the ADA."
Title 2, Bagenstos explains in an interview on the Harvard Law School website, "applies to issues like whether people with disabilities can vote, whether they can attend court, serve on juries, whether they can have education in an equal way, and whether they can have equal access to everything that state and local governments do." (Read Bagenstos interview at http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2003/12/02_bagenstos.php )
"If the Supreme Court were to rule that Congress lacked the power under the 14th Amendment to enact that title of the ADA, then that would potentially eliminate a huge portion of the ADA's protections." A listing of the groups signing the disability rights brief can be found at http://www.bazelon.org/lane/ (scroll down).
The case is No. 02-1667.
More about the case, including links to the texts of the briefs filed, is available online at http://www.bazelon.org/lane/. Still more resources, including one to the Sixth Circuit decision, can be found at http://washingtonpost.findlaw.com/supreme_court/docket/2003/january.html#02-1667
Texas is another state arguing that Title 2 is unconstitutional. That story is online at http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/drn/12_03.shtml#641