Fall 2003

Section Sponsors ABA Supreme Court Brief in Disability Rights Case

The ABA has filed a Section-sponsored amicus curiae brief with the U. S. Supreme Court in a case presenting the issue of whether Congress has the power under the Fourteenth Amendment to authorize money damages against the states for violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA").

The Tennessee v. Lane brief, filed on Nov. 12, 2003, addresses Title II applicability to the states in the context of barriers to access to the courts and the judicial system.

The case involves George Lane and Beverly Jones, both persons with disabilities who allege that Tennessee jurisdictions violated Title II of the ADA by conducting judicial proceedings in places that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities, thereby denying those individuals access to the courts. The United States intervened on Lane and Jones's behalf. A federal district court denied the state's motion to dismiss on Eleventh Amendment grounds.

On appeal, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's judgment on the basis that Title II validly abrogates the states' sovereign immunity to the extent that the statutory violation implicates due process principles, but left for remand the fact-specific question of whether respondents actually suffered "due process violations." The State appealed.

The ABA brief draws upon the Association's 2002 Section-sponsored policy urging courts to make courthouses and court proceedings accessible to individuals with disabilities. The brief argues that lack of equal and effective access to the judicial system for persons with disabilities undermines the "fairness, legitimacy, and public confidence in the administration of justice" and deprives the system of the "benefits of these individuals' contributions and participation."

The ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law co-sponsored the brief with the Section. Pro bono drafters of the brief were Paul R. Q. Wolfson, David W. Bowker, and Jennifer M. Rockoff of Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering in Washington, D. C. Leaders of the Section's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also contributed substantially to the brief's development.

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