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Americans Disability Act - Supreme Court to hear a key disability case, Tennessee vs. Lane & Jones

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    Americans Disability Act - Supreme Court to hear a key disability case, Tennessee vs. Lane & Jones

    Contact: Jim Ward of ADA Watch/National Coalition for Disability Rights, 202-415-4753, or Christopher Burley of the Bazelon Center, 202-467-5730, ext. 133

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in State of Tennessee vs. George Lane and Beverly Jones, a case that could severely limit enforcement of key provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that protect millions of people with disabilities from discrimination by public entities in courtrooms, schools, health care and other areas.

    "Access to justice is a fundamental right of all Americans," said Jim Ward, president of ADA Watch, a national coalition representing disability rights advocates. "Today we call on the Supreme Court to do its duty to protect that right for people with disabilities by upholding Title II of the ADA."

    Plaintiffs in the case are George Lane and Beverly Jones. Lane and Jones, who both have mobility impairments, sued Tennessee for failing to ensure that courthouses are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Jones worked as a court reporter. Lane was a defendant in a criminal case. Both were denied access to courtrooms on the second floors of buildings that lacked elevators. The state arrested Lane for failure to appear in court when he refused to crawl or be carried up the stairs.
    According to the article,

    Disability rights activists plan to crawl up the stairs to the Supreme Court at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning in a symbolic show of support for the plaintiffs. Advocates also planned rallies Tuesday in Memphis, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; San Diego, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif. and other cities across the country.
    A number of people are concerned that there is a risk that this may result in ADA being weakened if this case fails.

    "This case is important not just because it threatens to gut the ADA, preventing millions of people with disabilities from enforcing their rights, but also because it is the latest attack in an aggressive campaign by extremist conservatives in recent years to weaken federal civil rights protections for all Americans, under the notion of states' rights," said Nancy Zirkin, deputy director and director of public policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a leading national civil rights coalition.


    on Jan 12 10:23:13 2004 Pacific Time

          Bazelon Center Statement on Tennesee v. Lane Supreme Court Disability Case

           WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (AScribe Newswire) -- The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Tennessee v. Lane and Jones tomorrow morning. The Court's ruling in the case could have profound implications for the roughly 49 million Americans with disabilities. The following is a prepared statement on the case by Jennifer Mathis, staff attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.


           Good morning. My name is Jennifer Mathis and I am a staff attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national legal advocacy group for people with mental disabilities. The Bazelon Center coordinated the filing of amicus briefs in the Supreme Court to support George Lane, Beverly Jones and the other plaintiffs, because their case is important not just to people with mental disabilities but to all Americans.

           The stakes in this case are high. The wrong ruling could strip millions of Americans of a critical means of enforcing their rights. Beyond that, it would set the stage for further erosion of civil rights in this country.

           Tennessee v. Lane is the latest assault by states on Congress's power to pass laws protecting people's rights. In recent years, the Supreme Court has struck down parts of key civil rights laws, among them the Violence Against Women Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

           The Americans with Disabilities Act itself has faced many challenges. The Supreme Court has already exempted states from having to compensate people with disabilities for discrimination under the employment provisions of the ADA, ruling that Congress did not have the Constitutional authority to subject states to damage claims for employment discrimination.

           In Lane, the Court will consider Title II of the ADA, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination by public entities in courtrooms, schools, health care programs and other areas of public life. The Court will decide whether people with disabilities have the right to seek damages for civil rights violations by state entities. Damages are a critical means to prevent discrimination and ensure compliance with the law.

           But what is at stake in the Lane case is not simply money damages. Lane is about whether Congress had the power to enact the ADA in the first place.

           Congress passed Title II under the 14th Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Tennessee argues that Congress acted unconstitutionally when it invoked the 14th Amendment. States are also challenging the constitutionality of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause in other courts.

           This amounts to a double-barreled assault on the ADA-and on the 49 million Americans with disabilities whose rights the ADA now protects.

           The Supreme Court's previous rulings limiting Congress's power to regulate commerce are cause for serious concern that Title II's most important provisions-those relating to access to the court system, voting, marriage and family rights, education and institutionalization-might not be upheld under the Commerce Clause.

           If the Supreme Court rules that Congress had no power to enact the law's public service provisions, the ADA will no longer offer people with disabilities any means to seek remedy for many kinds of discrimination, including:

           - Exclusion from court proceedings as litigants, as jurors, as witnesses, as judges and as spectators.

           - The warehousing of people with disabilities in institutions simply because states have not developed enough services to serve them in their own homes or other community settings.

           - Restrictions, based on their disabilities, on the right to marry or have children;

           - The inaccessibility of public libraries, social services offices, and polling places; and

           - The exclusion from, or unequal treatment in, every aspect of public life.

           That would be an unacceptable loss. When Congress passed the ADA, it acted to correct a long history of discrimination against people with disabilities by states and others. People with disabilities, the civil rights community and Congress worked too hard to pass the ADA to see it swept away because states feel they are above the law.

           It would be tragic if the Supreme Court negated those efforts by continuing to strip the ADA of its protections for people with disabilities. If you keep swinging an axe at a tree, it's bound to fall. We fervently hope this Court won't go down in history as the one that struck down the ADA.


           The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is a national legal advocate for people with mental disabilities. Through precedent-setting litigation and in the public policy arena, the Bazelon Center works to advance and preserve the rights of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.



      National Council on Disability Statement on Tennessee vs. Lane: Access to Gov't Services for People with Disabilities at Stake

      1/12/04 7:00:00 AM

      To: National Desk

      Contact: Mark S. Quigley of the National Council on Disability, 202-272-2004 or 202-272-2074 (TTY)

      WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Following is a statement from the National Council on Disability on Tennessee vs. Lane:

      "On Jan. 13, the Supreme Court of the United States will conduct oral argument in Tennessee vs. Lane (02-1667). Few cases are more compelling than a person in a wheelchair who has to crawl up the courthouse steps to participate in court proceedings, as did the plaintiff in this case. The National Council on Disability (NCD), in first proposing and then drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), worked closely with Congress in crafting Title II of the ADA to prevent just the type of discrimination experienced by Mr. Lane.

      "In 1998, George Lane and Beverly Jones brought a lawsuit against the State of Tennessee under Title II of the ADA alleging that several courthouses in the state were inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs. Title II prohibits governmental entities from denying public services, programs and activities to individuals on the basis of their disability. In addition, it provides that people who have been discriminated against on the basis of disability can seek damages from governmental entities, including states. The state of Tennessee argued that it was protected from ADA lawsuits by the Constitution, which grants sovereign immunity to states from damage suits brought by individuals.

      "Much is at stake in Lane. The courts of appeals are deeply divided about the constitutionality of the damages remedy under Title II and about the basic question of whether the power of Congress to override sovereign immunity should be determined for Title II overall or only for certain applications. Limiting the Title II remedy to recognized constitutional violations or to violations based on the Due Process Clause would impose arbitrary limitations on the reach of the remedy because it would exclude situations where Congress was well within its power to legislate under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and where the states have demonstrated a record of invidious discrimination on the basis of disability. Not only would such a ruling weaken the effectiveness of Title II by eliminating the ability of plaintiffs to obtain damages against the states, it would eliminate one of the fundamental bases of congressional power to require the states to provide access to public facilities. While there are two other possible sources of congressional power to require access-Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, based on the Spending Clause, and injunctive actions against state officials based on the Commerce Clause-these sources of congressional power are also under attack and subject to many of the same theoretical debates about the federalism framework that have deeply divided the current Court. Thus, the result in Lane could have implications far beyond the damages remedy and even beyond Title II itself.

      "According to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in this matter, "In Title II, Congress formulated a statute that, much like federal laws combating racial and gender discrimination, is carefully designed to root out present instances of unconstitutional discrimination, to undo the effects of past discrimination, and to prevent future unconstitutional treatment by prohibiting discrimination and promoting integration where reasonable." As such, DOJ concludes that "application of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to States and their subdivisions falls squarely within Congress's comprehensive legislative power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit, remedy, and prevent violations of the rights secured by that Amendment."

      "NCD's policy paper, Tennessee v. Lane: The Legal Issues and Implications for People with Disabilities ( ) discusses the case and the constitutional and policy issues it raises. The paper examines the Lane case in the context of the recent trend in Supreme Court decisions limiting the power of Congress to regulate the states. It is clear that the Supreme Court should decide that Title II does override the states' sovereign immunity and that these plaintiffs can seek damages from the State of Tennessee."

      For more information, contact Mark Quigley or Jeff Rosen at 202-272-2004 or 202-272-2074 (TTY).


        Bump- I think this is important!
        Instead of your conservative vs liberal debates, or if you like it hairy or not or big or more than a handfull or not, whos jaded or not, this can have long lasting affects on our lives.


          Bob, as I'm sure you've witnessed, many on this site do not seem to feel the need for equal rights for persons with disabilities, or view this as an issue of human/social injustice. Furthermore, some do not seem to recognize that even cure itself is an issue of equal treatment and justice. How funds and issues are prioritized in this country is representative of how the powers that be regard person's with disabilities, including those with SCI, as being not worthy of greater attention and more aggressive cure efforts.


            Right on Chick! Could you imagine going to a High School in the US of A and your chair could not fit into any bathroom in the building, and when your father called the principal they thought he was being unreasonable asking them to fix the situation? I've been there.


              Originally posted by bigbob:

              Right on Chick! Could you imagine going to a High School in the US of A and your chair could not fit into any bathroom in the building, and when your father called the principal they thought he was being unreasonable asking them to fix the situation? I've been there.
              Yes, and of course it is also unreasonable in Middle School, to want to be placed in the sixth grade class room with your peers, rather than a seventh grade class room you don't belong in.
              Jason was placed in a seventh grade classroom, simply because all sixth grade class rooms happened to be in trailers without ramps.

              The Office of Civil Rights has been "investigating" this case since Febr. 2002, and have yet to come up with their "findings".......

              ADA specifically says all buildings constructed after Febr. 1991 have to be accessible by ramp. The trailers were placed there 1997.



                Tennessee is backed by seven states: Alabama, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.

                While unfortunate, the failure to install elevators and other equipment to help the disabled does not violate the Constitution, lawyers for those states told the court.

                More states lined up on the other side. Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin filed legal briefs in support of Lane and Beverly Jones, a court reporter in a wheelchair who claims she could not work in many Tennessee courthouses.

                The Bush administration sided with the disabled in the case, arguing that Congress deliberately wrote the law to ensure that people would have access to government officials, courthouses and polling places.

                "It determined that only a comprehensive effort to integrate persons with disabilities would end the cycle of isolation, segregation, and second-class citizenship, and deter further discrimination," Solicitor General Theodore Olson told justices in a filing.



                  I just heard a portion of the transcript from the Supreme Court regarding this case. It appears that the court believes that it isn't a violation to require the disabled to be carried into a court room or a polling place if it isn't wheelchair accessible. Evidently the judges don't see any violation of the ADA or of any other rights if a government facility is not accessible.

                  I get the impression that a person's dignity is not covered in anyway by the Constitution. [img]/forum/images/smilies/frown.gif[/img] If human dignity isn't covered, I have an idea for saving money. Start slopping prison inmates like hogs--feed them in troughs. Remove their clothing and shoes and make them go naked. Remove water heaters. Don't let them communicate with friends or relatives. Force them to work harnessed and muzzled. Remove toilets, beds and sinks from prison cells.

                  The money saved can then be directed toward SCI research and a cure.

                  Or maybe we give all that stuff to inmates because we don't want to violate their dignity?

                  I get it! It's a double standard and the Supreme Court doesn't see any problem with that.


                    Court to Rule on Protections for Disabled

                    By ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writer

                    WASHINGTON - A paraplegic who crawled up two flights of stairs to reach a public courtroom should have expected better under the law mandating that disabled people will not be locked out of buildings and opportunities that are open to others, his lawyer argued Tuesday at the Supreme Court.

                    "An elevator to a person with disabilities is like the stairs to me," lawyer William J. Brown told the justices. "It's the way I get there."

                    Brown's client, George Lane, wants to sue the state of Tennessee for up to $100,000 for what he contends was humiliating treatment. His case is the high court's latest look at the breadth of civil rights and other protections guaranteed by the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.

                    The case also is the latest in a series that test the balance of power between Congress and the federal government on one hand, and state governments on the other. In what may be the hallmark of the court led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, that balance has slowly shifted to the states.

                    Tennessee contends that Congress went too far in writing the ADA, and that Lane has no right to sue. Lack of an elevator in a small-town courthouse may be unfortunate, but Lane had other options, Tennessee Solicitor General Michael E. Moore argued.

                    Lane could have consented to be carried up the steps, or courthouses without elevators could hold hearings on the first floor when needed, Moore said.

                    "There is no evidence before the court, and there was no evidence before Congress, that anyone's constitutional rights were being violated," by the absence of elevators or other accommodations, Moore argued.

                    Tennessee does not dispute that the Polk County courthouse lacked an elevator at the time of Lane's hearing in 1996, or that the state has a duty to make its services available to all.

                    The issue for the high court, however, is not whether Tennessee complied with the ADA but what Lane, as a private citizen, can do if the state was remiss.

                    States are ordinarily immune from lawsuits like Lane's, where a private citizen seeks money from the state for violation of a federal law. Congress can override that sovereign immunity in certain extraordinary circumstances, but it must demonstrate why that step is necessary.

                    In a major ruling three years ago, the court's five-member conservative majority ruled that states cannot be sued by their own employees for failing to comply with the ADA's guarantee against discrimination in the workplace.

                    A ruling in the case is expected by summer.



                      A second disabled person in the case, Beverly Jones, a court reporter who uses a wheelchair, alleges that the lack of handicapped access in a Wilson County, Tenn., courthouse meant that a local judge had to carry her to and from the women's bathroom.

                      Tennessee acknowledges that some of its courthouses lack access for the disabled. But the state denies that is a violation of constitutional rights. And it takes such a constitutional violation, Moore argued, to overcome a state's immunity from such lawsuits.


                      O.K., so now I guess, we'll have to wait to accumulate enough Workers Comp. cases involving people getting hurt on the job while carrying a disabled person up the stairs, before this is found to be a ridiculous/unacceptable practice.


                        Perhaps we can look at the situation this way. What if the Tennessee Courthouse had restricted access to another group of people, i.e. black people, and that every black person had to be carried up the stairs of certain courthouses. Would federal laws supercede local ones? I think that it would. What is the difference between skin color and disability? After all, it is just another physical characteristic.



                          I've been arguing the exact same to the Office of Civil Rights, when the school claimed that there was no need to make the 1600 trailers wheelchair accessible in this one affluent county in Georgia, even though Florida has each and every trailer accessible.
                          The GA school district claimed that since programs were (sometimes made) available in the main building, there would be no need for disabled people to attend class in a trailer. They would just be required to attend class in the main building.

                          First, all buildings constructed after Jan. 23, 1991 are required by ADA to be accessible, so the trailers being inaccessible is still against ADA.
                          But besides that, it would also be discriminatory to say for example that all hispanics have to attend class in the main building. So why does it continue to be "O.K. to discriminate" against the disabled, segregating them, by limiting them to class rooms in the main building?

                          P.S. It had already taken three months in school followed by a two-month long media campaign for the school to make a 6th grade class room available in the main building. Before that the school had just placed Jason in a 7th grade class room as no 6th grade classes had been scheduled in the main building at all.


                            From The Christian Science Monitor
                            Commentary > The Monitor's View
                            January 23, 2004 edition

                            States and Disabilities

                            The reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is again up for grabs in a case before the Supreme Court. As it has in recent cases, the court may decide that states' rights outweigh a federal interest in helping persons with disabilities.

                            An important (and often expensive) provision of the 1990 act requires that public buildings provide "reasonable accommodation" to all. The latest case involves a paraplegic who had to appear in a Tennessee courtroom but was forced to go up two flights of stairs to get there.

                            At the time, in 1996, the courthouse had no elevator. The man sued the state for $100,000 in damages under the act, while lawyers for Tennessee argued that the Constitution's 11th Amendment and previous court decisions means states cannot be sued by their own citizens under a federal lawsuit.

                            Three years ago, the high court said states could not be sued by state employees for failing to comply with the ADA's guarantee against discrimination in the workplace. But the plaintiffs in this new case argue that Tennessee's inaction in helping the disabled more severely threatens other Constitutional guarantees, such as free speech, the right to confront accusers at a trial, due process, and equal protection.

                            Congress passed the ADA precisely because many states were not providing more opportunities for the disabled to live normal lives, from access to the voting booth to access to society at large. Many were (and still are) institutionalized. Some still have difficulty obtaining an education in the least restrictive environment possible. Further, states still have a patchwork of laws relating to persons with disabilities. Some don't even cover basic elements of the ADA law.

                            State legislatures by now should have at least absorbed the federal act's basic wisdom of meeting the needs of this minority group of Americans, who number 50 million.

                            Whether the disabled have a federal constitutional right to access is a key issue for the court to decide. But human decency calls for the states to measure up to the federal standards set in the ADA.


                            My Comment: We can't rely on Human Decency without rigorous enforcement. It's human nature to ignore the "weak".


                              I am aware that my response is qute late in this rather old subject. But most States subscribe to the model building codes and adopted them as State law, these laws place emphasis on accomodating the ADA as requirements to building school building.

                              MY point is placing your attack attention at/towards the Building Codes enforcement officials for granting the out of compliance building a Certificate Of Occupancy or Compliance is/was an illegal act, as required under their sworn duty to enforce their own State Law. A suit placed against the State authority who granted such a required document Cert of Compliance, or Occupancy, may be more easily executed than against the school itself. The other target is the licensed design Archetic or Engineering firm who created the Non-Compliant design for these structures.

                              Since every State has different enabling legislation procedures as well as enforcement procedures these are simply suggestions as to how to gain Public Building the Federal compliance with ADA. This is obviously a less direct method of reaching you point, but may have some better opportunity for success.

                              To get State compliance, with the ADA you might have to use a Federal Law suit, monetary suits seem to have less success than simply sueing for straight compliance of the law through the DOJ. It is unlikely you will get any money for your personal inconvenience.