FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Laura J. Miller, Managing Attorney
Equip for Equality
TTY (800) 610-2779
Barry C. Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director
Equip for Equality
TTY (800) 610-2779
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Right of Court Access under the ADA
Equip for Equality applauds victory for people with disabilities
CHICAGO (May 17, 2004) - Today, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in a case challenging Congress' authority to hold states liable for disability discrimination. In Tennessee v. Lane, the Supreme Court held that states are subject to lawsuits filed in federal court for money damages under the ADA in cases involving access to the courts. The question before the Supreme Court was whether Congress acted properly when it enacted the ADA and made states liable for discrimination against people with disabilities in the provision of government services. The Supreme Court has decided that the ADA does apply to the states when people with disabilities seek to enforce their rights to gain access to the courts.
"Today, the Supreme Court correctly decided that people with disabilities have a fundamental right of access to the courts under the ADA," says Barry Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director at Equip for Equality. "We hope this decision will result in states providing all of its services, including access to the judicial process, in a non-discriminatory manner."
The plaintiffs in the case, two Tennessee residents with paraplegia, were denied access to judicial proceedings because those proceedings were held in courtrooms on the second floors of buildings lacking elevators. One of the plaintiffs, George Lane, was unable to attend a criminal proceeding being held in an inaccessible second-floor courtroom; the state arrested him for failure to appear when he refused to crawl or be carried up the steps. Another of the plaintiffs, Beverly Jones, sought access to the courtroom to perform her work as a court reporter. Lane and Jones filed suit under Title II of the ADA to challenge the state's failure to hold proceedings in accessible courthouses. In response to the ADA suit, the State of Tennessee argued that it is immune from suits under Title II of the ADA.
In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that when the ADA was passed, Congress identified an extensive history of discrimination by states in the provision of its programs and services for people with disabilities. The Court went on to hold that the remedies set forth by Congress in the ADA were appropriate to address the objective of enforcing access to the courts for people with disabilities.
"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has recognized that people with disabilities are entitled to the full range of the ADA's remedies, including money damages, when they are denied access to the courts," said Laura Miller, Managing Attorney for Equip for Equality. "Money damages not only provide compensation for the discrimination people with disabilities experience, but they also can serve as strong motivation for states to comply with their obligations under the law."
Although the State of Tennessee argued that the ADA did not apply to the States, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with 10 other Attorneys General, filed a brief with the Supreme Court expressing their support for the constitutionality of the ADA.
Equip for Equality is the independent, private, not-for-profit organization designated by the Governor in 1985 to administer the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) System for safeguarding the rights of children and adults with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. It is the only comprehensive statewide advocacy organization in Illinois providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigation.
The reference number for the case is: 02-1667.