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George Lane: Hero -- or hellion? Depends on whose story you read. MORE.

Tenn. v. Lane case

Jan. 12, 2004 -- Disability rights activists plan to crawl up the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court at 9 a.m.tomorrow as oral arguments begin in the case Tennessee v. Lane. Activists in San Diego, Sacramento, Memphis and cities in Texas will be "Crawling for Justice" at federal court houses as well.

"The event is intended to illustrate the humiliation George Lane and others have been forced to endure," says ADAWatch.. Lane, one of the plaintiffs, had to crawl up the stairs to a Tennessee courtroom because the courthouse, like many in Tennessee, was not accessible, in violation of Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Lane, who lost a leg in a traffic accident, went to the Polk County courthouse in September 1996 to answer charges of driving with a revoked license.

The New York Times's Adam Cohen reports that
While Mr. Lane crawled up, he says, the judge and other courthouse employees "stood at the top of the stairs and laughed at me." His case was not heard in the morning session, he says, and at the lunch break he crawled back down. That afternoon, when he refused to crawl upstairs again, he was arrested for failing to appear, and put in jail. ... . The employees who laughed at him offered to carry him upstairs, he says, but he was afraid they would intentionally drop him.

Beverly L. Jones, another plaintiff in the case who also uses a wheelchair, is a certified court reporter who said her ability to earn a living was "significantly impeded" because she could not gain access to more than 20 courthouses in middle Tennessee, where she works. Jones, a single mother of two, agreed to be carried to some courtrooms but she lost patience after she had to be carried to an inaccessible restroom by a judge.

Lane's attorney, William J. Brown, says the central issue in the case is whether the rights of citizenship can be taken away because of a disability. Disabled people's rights are diminished if they cannot gain access to the places where public business is transacted, such as courthouses, he said. "That is a fundamental right of citizenship."

As of Friday, CA activist HolLynn D'Lil was urging groups to stage "crawls" in their communities. "Please organize and participate in a rally or "Crawl for Justice" in your area, she said. " The world will wonder if we even care about our rights if we don't make ourselves visible."

Last fall, the 55,000-member American Association of People with Disabilities urged TN Gov. Bredesen to drop the appeal. Read letter.
Earlier coverage of activists' efforts with Tennessee v. Lane

Tennessee says that it shouldn't have to make its courthouses accessible, that Lane and Jones shouldn't be allowed to sue for damages; that evidence of disaibility discrimination on the part of states isn't sufficient to warrant Congress overriding a their 11th amendment immunity to suits.

"I am very concerned because I think that the plaintiffs are very vulnerable in this upcoming case," said Ira A. Burnim of the Bazelon Center . The plaintiffs include Lane and five other people who assert that they were excluded from "core state programs" at inaccessible Tennessee courthouses. Two lower federal courts have agreed with the plaintiffs, who are seeking damages up to $250,000 each.

TN Dep. Gov. Dave Cooley tries to convince advocates the state supports the rights of people with disabilities.

Two years ago this month, the Supreme Court ruled in the Garrett decision against an Alabama proferssor with breast cancer, saying that Congress had no right to supercede the 11th Amendment in Title 1 of the ADA. This case concerns the law's Title 2. If the justices side with Tennessee, the ADA's mandate against state discrimination in services to disabled people will be lost as well.

Tennessee Attorney General Paul G. Summers. has told reporters that allowing disabled people to sue states for failing to make public facilities accessible would give them a remedy that is "out of proportion" to the problem the statute is designed to correct.

Carol Westlake, executive director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition, told reporters that Tennessee's claim of sovereign immunity is the same argument that was used to deny civil rights to blacks in the 1950s and '60s.

On Friday, disability activists in Texas held a rally to speak out against two more Title 2 ADA cases that may be headed to the Supreme Court. Ironically, the Texas Attorney General, the man who is arguing that Texas should not have to obey the Americans with Disabilities Act, is himself a disabled wheelchair user.

"Personally, there is not a stronger supporter of the ADA than I," Abbott told the Austin American-Statesman's Andrea Ball on Friday. "Personally, there may not be a person who needs public buildings to be accessible more than I."

But, he insisted, "as the attorney general, I have the legal obligation to defend the State of Texas when it is sued in court."

"Abbott is arguing for the abolition of the section of the ADA that applies to state and local government" in two cases taken by disability advocates, says ADAWatch, adding that Texas says its position is justified because "Congress lacks the authority to dictate how the states operate."

Governor Rick Perry's office has been silent on his position concerning the constitutionality of the ADA, say activists. "A letter sent to his office on December 17, 2003 asking for his support of the ADA has remained unanswered."

More on Abbott.

Posted Jan. 12, 2004

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