The Supreme Court upheld the rights of disabled people under a national law meant to protect them, ruling yesterday that a paraplegic who crawled up the steps of a small-town courthouse can sue over the lack of an elevator.
The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) properly gives private citizens such as George Lane the right to seek money in court if a state fails to live up to the law’s requirements, a 5-to-4 majority ruled.
At issue in Mr. Lane’s case was the right of private citizens to try to pursue perceived violations of the ADA in federal courts. Advocates for the disabled claimed that the fear of hefty damage awards was a powerful tool to force state governments to follow the law.
“The unequal treatment of disabled persons in the administration of judicial services has a long history” that has persisted despite antidiscrimination laws, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for himself and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
The majority appeared to limit its ruling to the fairly narrow sphere of courthouses and court services, but the rationale could be used to allow private suits on other grounds.
In other action, the Supreme Court:
Rejected Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest appeal of his conviction for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
Passed up a chance to settle a multimillion-dollar dispute between an artist and the NFL over a logo for the Baltimore Ravens.