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photo: ADA Watch members Photo: Tom Olin.
ADA Watch Coalition members include: ADAPT, The Arc, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, National Association for Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS), DRC, NISH, American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD), Paralyzed Veterans Association, National Council on Disability, National Organization on Disability, CCD, NCIL, and others.

Disability rights advocates respond to Supreme Court Garrett ruling

Press release from ADA Watch

Feb. 21-- Disability rights leaders from across the nation gathered in Washington, in person and by phone, to respond to the Supreme Court decision limiting the enforcement of Title I of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Civil Rights leaders including Justin Dart, Jr, Marca Bristo, Bob Kafka, Paul Marchand, and others gathered to interpret the Court's decision and issue a response. In addition to voicing concern regarding the direction of the Supreme Court related to the civil rights protections of people with disabilities, the group called on the Bush Administration to issue a statement of support of the ADA and a promise to fully enforce the law. President Bush's father signed the ADA into law in 1990.

Today's decision is a blow to the rights of people with disabilities. By the narrowest of margins (5-4), the Supreme Court ruled that state employees may no longer sue their employers for money damages under the ADA. 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. As Justice Breyer noted in his dissenting opinion, "the legislative record bears out Congress' finding that the adverse treatment of person with disabilities was often arbitrary or invidious. . . "It is difficult to see how the Court can find the legislative record here inadequate. . . the record indicates that state governments subjected those with disabilities to seriously adverse, disparate treatment..."

Indeed, the ADA was the result of strong bi-partisan efforts in Congress, and was signed into law by former President Bush (who also filed a brief in the Garrett case in support of the ADA). Disability advocates hope that the current Bush administration will continue to strongly support and enforce the ADA.

While today's decision rolls back the protections afforded by Congress, it is imperative to note that this decision affects only the ability of people with disabilities to sue state employers in federal court for money damages in employment discrimination cases.

The ruling does not prevent individual suits against a state employer for injunctive relief, nor does it bar suits initiated by the federal government for money damages.

The ruling likewise does not bar suits for money damages against private employers or local governments.

Perhaps most importantly, the Court explicitly declined to rule on the constitutionality of Title II of the ADA, which applies to state and local government programs. As a result, the Olmstead decision and other similar decisions are unaffected by today's ruling.

Curtis Decker, Executive Director of the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems stated: "The Supreme Court today ignored the clear evidence of pervasive discrimination throughout the country against people with disabilities. People with disabilities simply want to go to work and be productive members of society. The Supreme Court had before it myriad examples of discrimination. The question is: "When is enough enough?"

Other ADA Watch participants voiced their concerns. "Under today's ruling and other recent decisions limiting the ability of Congress to protect individual rights under the Constitution, the U. S. Supreme Court is systematically turning the clock back on civil rights. The disability community is outraged that our highest court has chosen to weaken a law that is our ticket to full citizenship," stated Andy Imparato, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, a national membership association based in Washington, D.C. founded in 1995 to promote political and economic empowerment for Americans with Disabilities.

Jim Dixon, National Organization on Disability stated: "This ruling is a blatant attack on the civil rights of persons with disabilities and may represent only the beginning of the erosion of the civil rights of all Americans."

The ADA Watch is a coalition of disability rights organizations formed to gather information regarding threats to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to activate grassroots responses to protect and strengthen civil rights protections for people with disabilities.



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