(But see, Alabama v. Garrett re. threats to Title I of the ADA)
On June 22, 1999, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Olmstead v. L.C., holding that the unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities may constitute discrimination based on disability. You can find the opinion at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/98-536.ZS.html
Advocates for persons with disabilities are very pleased about the decision, although the court did set a number of limits on the scope of the integration mandate. In a 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, the court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit's holding that unjustified isolation of individuals with disabilities is properly regarded as discrimination based on disability.
The court held that unjustified segregation in institutions is discrimination not only because it perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that people with disabilities are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life, but also because confinement in an institution severely curtails everyday life activities, such as family relations, social contacts, work, educational advancement and cultural enrichment.Nonetheless, the Supreme Court held, the states' need to maintain a range of facilities for the care and treatment of individuals with diverse mental disabilities must be recognized.
The court held that the Eleventh Circuit's remand instruction to consider the cost of providing the litigants with community based services in light of the state's mental health budget was unduly restrictive. In evaluating a state's fundamental alteration defense, courts must consider not only the cost of providing community based care to the litigants, but also the range of services the state provides to others with mental disabilities and its obligation to mete out those services in an equitable manner. If the state shows that immediate relief for the plaintiffs would be inequitable "given the responsibility the state has undertaken for the care and treatment of a large and diverse population of persons with mental disabilities," it will have met the fundamental alteration defense.
Additionally, the court held that if the state demonstrates that it has a "comprehensive, effectively working plan for placing qualified persons with mental disabilities in less restrictive settings, and a waiting list that move[s] at a reasonable pace not controlled by the State's endeavors to keep its institutions fully populated" an individual cannot skip to the top of the waiting list by filing a lawsuit to obtain community services; such a move would not be a reasonable modification. Finally, the court held that a state may generally rely on the "reasonable assessments of its own professional" in determining whether an individual meets the essential eligibility requirements for a community-based program.
National Public Radio - All Things Considered June 22 report on the decision (requires Real Audio or Real Media).
Four Thousand March and Rally at the Supreme Court. Click here to read about the on May 12 rally.
New York Times Editorial (4/20/99) on Olmstead and other ADA cases before the Supreme Court.
When the similar case, Helen L. v. DiDario, was appealed to the Supreme Court, the court declined to hear it, implying they agreed with the lower courts. Now the court has chose to review the matter -- most likely because 22 states filed a brief requesting that the Supreme Court hear the L.C. appeal and overturn the Court of Appeals' decision. Due to the hard work of activists, most of these states backed out: Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida (the original organizer of the campaign), Louisanna, Maryland, Masssachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. Unfortunately, four states joined the brief: Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Washington. In addition, the City of El Paso passed a resolution supporting most integrated setting and calling on the Governor and Attorney General of Texas to get off the brief.
Keep in touch with efforts of activists on this issue:
Read the amicus brief ADAPT, NCIL and TASH has filed.
The National Council on Disability, the independent federal agency that played a lead role in drafting the legislation ultimately enacted as the ADA and has monitored its implementation in the ten years since, filed a brief that cites NCD's participation in development of the law; the brief concludes that the Council "would have protested vehemently" had there been "even a hint that Title II would not prohibit"unnecessary institutionalization. "But there was no such hint," it states, and the Council "was quite comfortable lending its unequivocal support."
Read about ADAPT's Campaign for Real Choice and efforts to rally to uphold the ADA and its community integration mandate.
A brief by 30 national organizations -- including NARPA** -- and seven Georgia groups** examines the history of segregation of and discrimination against people with disabilities and documents the proven benefits of their inclusion in the community. Those signing the brief include leading professional associations and disability advocates as well as groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Catholic Charities U.S.A. This brief, authored by the law firm of Howrey & Simon and the Bazelon Center, reviews the history of institutional segregation of people with disabilities and the professional literature that "overwhelmingly confirms" that those "who are placed in community settings can develop fuller, more enjoyable lives in ways non-disabled persons take for granted, but which are essentially impossible to achieve in an institutionthey attend movies, go shopping, enjoy parks and recreation, and visit friends." Pointing out that the 11 states supporting Georgia's appeal "do so even though many of their own state statutes take a contrary position," the brief examines some specific state policies.