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Supreme Court's Narrow Ruling Undermines ADA

The Supreme Court stripped away part of the power of the Americans with Disabilities Act today, but did not touch the heart of the Act -- the civil rights protection against discrimination, the national Center for an Accessible Society said today.

"The Court's ruling once again revealed its lack of understanding of what it means to be disabled in America," said William G. Stothers, deputy director of the Center. "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."

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. The Supreme Court also explicitly declined to rule on Title II of the ADA, which applies to state and local government services.

"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.ĘSo 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."

Diller also said that "If asked, as a scholar I would be critical of the decision -- for its narrow reading of federal power under the 14th Amendment, for the impossibly high standard it set for Congress and for its watering down of the equal protection clause as applied to people with disabilities. But it is important to realize that it does not cut the heart out of the ADA by any means."

"The decision continues this Supreme Court's trend of chipping away at federal civil rights protections in the name of states' rights. In doing so, the Court virtually ignored the extensive record of discrimination by states against people with disabilities," said Jim Ward, Director of Public Policy, National Association of Protection & Advocacy, Inc.


For more information, contact:

William G. Stothers
Deputy Director
The Center for an Accessible Society
2980 Beech St.
San Diego, CA 92102
619-232-2727, ext. 104
619-886-2727 (cellular)

Amy F. Robertson
Fox & Robertson, P.C.
910 - 16th Street
Suite 610
Denver, CO 80202
303.595.9700 (voice)
303.595.9703 (TTY)
303.595.9705 (fax)

Matthew Diller
Fordham University School of Law
140 W. 62nd St.
New York, NY 10023

Jim Ward
Director of Public Policy
National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS)
900 Second Street, N.E., Suite 211
Washington, D.C. 20002
(Voice) 202/408-9514
(Fax) 202/408-9520
(TDD) 202/408-9521







Expert sources

From the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers:

Historical Context of the ADA

ADA definition of disability

Overview of law's structure

The ADA is changing the landscape of America -- commentary

"The ADA changed my life" -- personal stories

The meaning of "disability" under ADA

"A misunderstood law" -- commentary

The ADA Notification Act

Supreme Court ADA decisions:

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