In Disappointing Decision, Justices Limit Disability Law

February 21, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–The Supreme Court today ruled that state employees who have suffered job discrimination because of their disabilities may not sue for money damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The decision, the American Civil Liberties Union said, once again elevated states rights over individual rights.

“The Court’s decision shows an insensitivity to the plight of people with disabilities and a hostility to civil rights legislation enacted by Congress to assure that the states live up to their obligations under the Constitution,” said Steven R. Shapiro, national Legal Director of the ACLU.

“Yet,” Shapiro added, “that is the very reason why the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in the wake of the Civil War.”

The disappointing 5-4 ruling was written by Chief Justice Rehnquist and was joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, O’Connor and Kennedy. A strong dissent was written by Justice Breyer and signed by Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg.

The ACLU said that contrary to the Court’s opinion, the Act was not enacted in a vacuum. Before adopting it in 1990, Congress held 13 hearings and appointed a special task force. The voluminous evidence of state discrimination against people with disabilities that this effort revealed is exhaustively detailed in the lengthy appendix to Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion.

In light of this evidence, the ACLU said, the majority’s conclusion that Congress overstepped its constitutional authority is both inexplicable and wrong.

As Justice Breyer noted in his dissent, there is something fundamentally amiss when the states are given more latitude to discriminate than the federal government is given to remedy that discrimination through civil rights laws.

To read the full text of this opinion, go to:

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