----- Original Message -----
From: Do Not Give Up Hope
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 6:05 AM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] Justices to Decide if Disabled Inmates May Sue States for Damages
May 17, 2005
Justices to Decide if Disabled Inmates May Sue States for
By LINDA GREENHOUSE
WASHINGTON, May 16 - The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether state prison inmates who suffer discrimination on account of disabilities could sue for damages under a federal law, the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The case, to be argued during the court's next term, will be the latest chapter in the court's long-running re-examination of the
constitutional balance between the federal government and the states.
When Congress enacted the disabilities law in 1990, it applied the law to the states and included a statement of its intention to open the states to lawsuits for damages. Under the 11th Amendment, states enjoy immunity from damage suits in federal court, unless Congress explicitly states its intention to abrogate the immunity and invokes a proper constitutional basis for doing so.
Over the past 10 years, the Supreme Court has constricted Congressional discretion in this area.
The new case, United States v. Georgia, No. 04-1203, concerns Title II of the law, which prohibits state and local governments from discriminating on the basis of disability in the provision of public services or programs. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that prisons fall within the definition of a public program.
But that decision did not address the constitutional issue that this case presents: whether Congress had the authority to open the states to damage suits by prisoners. The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said Congress did not, ruling in a case brought by a Georgia prisoner who is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair.
The inmate, Tony Goodman, claimed that he could not maneuver his wheelchair in his small cell, to which he is confined for 23 to 24 hours a day.
As a result, Mr. Goodman argued in a lawsuit that he filed on his own behalf, he is deprived of access to a toilet and a shower, as well as to his bed. The suit said guards leave him sitting in his own waste rather than assist him. He claimed in the suit that the conditions violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
The federal government entered the case to defend Mr. Goodman's right to bring the lawsuit. Mr. Goodman, now represented by a former solicitor general, Drew S. Days III, of the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, also filed his own appeal of the 11th Circuit's ruling, which the Supreme Court also accepted in granting the government's appeal.
In issuing its opinion last September, the appeals court did not explain its reasoning, relying instead on its decision in a separate prisoner case that it had issued several days earlier. In that case, Miller v. King, the appeals court explained why it viewed the issue as not governed by a recent Supreme Court ruling that found Congress had properly opened the states to lawsuits under Title II for depriving people with disabilities of access to courtrooms.
In drawing a distinction between that case and the prison case, the 11th Circuit said the Eighth Amendment did not provide an adequate basis for Congress to breach the states' immunity. The "robust, positive due-process obligation of the states to provide meaningful and expansive court access is in stark contrast with the states' Eighth Amendment, negative obligation to abstain from 'cruel and unusual punishment,' " the appeals court said.