AARP & Tennessee Disability Coalition Support ADA Court
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 17, 2003
WASHINGTON, DC--On January 13, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear another case which promises to pit the rights of people with disabilities against "state's rights".
The case involves George Lane and Beverly Jones, two Tennesseans that use wheelchairs who sued the state of Tennessee for violating their rights to equal access under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
Lane, who had lost a leg in an auto accident, crawled up two flights of stairs for an arraignment on misdemeanor traffic charges at the Polk County Courthouse because there was no elevator or other accommodations. When a pretrial hearing was scheduled, Lane made his way to the ground floor of the courthouse. Once there, he refused to again crawl up the two flights of stairs. Even though Lane sent word to the judge that he was downstairs, officials arrested and jailed Lane for "failure to appear" in court.
Lane decided to sue the state for failing to follow the federal anti-discrimination law.
The other plaintiff, Beverly Jones, is a court reporter. She claims that the state's failure to make county courthouses accessible to her wheelchair has presented a hardship for her. Jones contends that she was unable to even enter four county courthouses where lawyers had hired her to record court proceedings. She listed another 19 Tennessee counties that have inaccessible courthouses.
After lower courts ruled for Lane and Jones, Tennessee's Attorney General Paul Summers appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Summers is arguing that people cannot sue states under the ADA because the states have "sovereign immunity". That argument worked two years ago in the case of Alabama v. Garrett when the high court ruled that a state employee with a disability could not sue her employer.
The Tennessee case, however, has to do with Title II of the ADA which requires "public services, programs or activities" to be made accessible to people with disabilities. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled earlier that states can be sued if they violate citizens rights of due process -- which is a function of the courts.
A number of states, disability groups and legal associations have filed briefs in support of Lane and Jones.
At the end of last week, the AARP and the Tennessee Disability Coalition announced they would be filing a brief supporting Lane and Jones in the case.
Background and past stories:
"State of Tennessee v. George Lane and Beverly Jones" (Inclusion Daily Express)