- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003


The Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that the federal government does not owe financial subsidies to people whose physical or mental disabilities allow them to do only jobs that no longer exist.

The court ruled in the case of a disabled former elevator operator who applied for federal Social Security disability payments after her employer installed new elevators and eliminated her job in 1995.

Pauline Thomas had heart and back ailments, among other health problems. Poor health already had forced Mrs. Thomas to change jobs once — from housekeeping to running an old, manual elevator at the Hudson County administration building in Jersey City, N.J.

Mrs. Thomas did not claim she was physically unable to perform her last job — the standard disability claim. Instead, she argued that technology had all but abolished her last occupation, and she could not do anything else.

The government denied Mrs. Thomas’ claim, but the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled in her favor. The Supreme Court reversed that action in a short, matter-of-fact ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia. It was the court’s first ruling of the term that began last month.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has the authority to deny Mrs. Thomas’ claim, even though the wording of the federal Social Security law is not precise in cases such as hers, Justice Scalia wrote.

“It is true that, under the SSA’s interpretation, a worker with severely limited capacity who has managed to find easy work in a declining industry could be penalized for his troubles if the job later disappears,” Justice Scalia wrote for the court.

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