Court looks at disabled

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices, hearing a case that could significantly diminish the reach of the Americans With Disabilities Act, seemed divided Wednesday over letting disabled people sue states under the federal civil rights law.

Justice Antonin Scalia questioned whether the failure of states to make "special accommodations" for the disabled justifies subjecting them to financial-damage lawsuits in federal court.

"There might well be a rational basis for refusing to hire a teacher in a wheelchair" if the disability could not be accommodated, Scalia added.

But Justice Stephen Breyer said court papers filed in the states’ rights case from Alabama showed many examples of unequal treatment of the disabled that Congress sought to remedy when it passed the law in 1990.

"Why isn’t it a constitutional violation, where Congress has lots and lots of instances of states that seem to discriminate against handicapped people?" he asked.

At the heart of the dispute is the balance of power between the federal and state governments, and the court has issued a series of 5-4 rulings in favor of the states in recent disputes. In January, for instance, the justices barred state workers from suing their employers in federal court under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The justices’ decision on the ADA, expected by next summer, could sweep broadly enough to affect not just lawsuits by state employees, but all claims that accuse states of bias against the disabled in services such as employment, education and health care. A ruling in favor of the states would thus have the effect of limiting the ADA’s enforcement.

Alabama is seeking to fend off disability-bias claims by a state-employed nurse and security guard. The nurse, Patricia Garrett, says she was demoted after taking a leave to be treated for breast cancer, and security guard Milton Ash says the state refused to enforce its no-smoking policy to accommodate his severe asthma.

A federal appeals court ruled the two could sue the state under the ADA.

Former President Bush, who signed the ADA into law, was among many people and groups offering advice to the justices. In a brief supporting Garrett and Ash, Bush said the ADA let disabled people "pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom."

Outside the court, a small band of disabled people lined up their wheelchairs on the sidewalk to protest what they called an assault on the disability law.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Marysville firefighters respond to a 12-year-old boy who fell down a well Tuesday May 30, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Photo provided by Marysville Fire District)
Marysville firefighters save boy who fell 20 feet into well

The 12-year-old child held himself up by grabbing on to a plastic pipe while firefighters worked to save him.

Highway 9 is set to be closed in both directions for a week as construction crews build a roundabout at the intersection with Vernon Road. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Weeklong closure coming to Highway 9 section in Lake Stevens

Travelers should expect delays or find another way from Friday to Thursday between Highway 204 and Lundeen Parkway.

Students arriving off the bus get in line to score some waffles during a free pancake and waffle breakfast at Lowell Elementary School on Friday, May 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
800 free pancakes at Everett’s Lowell Elementary feed the masses

The annual breakfast was started to connect the community and the school, as well as to get people to interact.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring speaks at the groundbreaking event for the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$123M project starting on Highway 529 interchange, I-5 HOV lane

A reader wondered why the highway had a lane closure despite not seeing work done. Crews were waiting on the weather.

Justin Bell was convicted earlier this month of first-degree assault for a December 2017 shooting outside a Value Village in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)
Court: Snohomish County jurors’ opaque masks didn’t taint verdict

During the pandemic, Justin Bell, 32, went on trial for a shooting. Bell claims his right to an impartial jury was violated.

Gary Fontes uprights a tree that fell over in front of The Fontes Manor — a miniature handmade bed and breakfast — on Friday, May 12, 2023, at his home near Silver Lake in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s mini-Frank Lloyd Wright builds neighborhood of extra tiny homes

A tiny lighthouse, a spooky mansion and more: Gary Fontes’ miniature world of architectural wonders is one-twelfth the size of real life.

Will Steffener
Inslee appoints Steffener as Superior Court judge

Attorney Will Steffener will replace Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis, who is retiring in June.

Mountlake Terrace Library, part of the Sno-Isle Libraries, in Mountlake Terrace, Washington on Thursday, June 1, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Sno-Isle workers cite safety, unfilled positions in union push

Workers also pointed to inconsistent policies and a lack of a say in decision-making. Leadership says they’ve been listening.

A view over the Port of Everett Marina looking toward the southern Whidbey Island fault zone in March 2021. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish County agencies to simulate major disaster

The scenario will practice the response to an earthquake or tsunami. Dozens of agencies will work with pilots.s

Most Read