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Supreme Court to Consider States’ Rights, Aspects of Disabilities Act

By Charles Lane
THE WASHINGTON POST -- washington

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will rule on the constitutionality of a key provision of the Americans With Disabilities Act, in a case that pits the court’s recent drive for states’ rights against the movement to expand legal protections for the disabled.

The court will decide whether disabled people who feel that they have been discriminated against in the provision of public services can sue state governments, or whether that common method of enforcing the law is prohibited because the Constitution gives the states “sovereign immunity,” which Congress is powerless to override.

“It is a case with potentially great impact because it implicates the entire range of actions a state takes vis-a-vis its citizens,” said Chai Feldblum, a professor of law at Georgetown University and disability-rights activist.

At issue is Title II of the 12-year-old ADA, the part of the law that guarantees people with disabilities equal access to, and equal treatment by, such public entities as transportation systems, hospitals and prisons.

The case that the high court Monday agreed to hear, Medical Board of California v. Hason, involves a California doctor, Michael Hason, who sued the state’s medical licensing agency in 1999 for discrimination, saying that it unfairly rejected him because of his history of mental illness.

Viewed as a matter of disability law, the new case is difficult to predict. In recent ADA cases involving employment, the court has generally made it harder for those alleging discrimination to succeed.

But in cases about access to public services and accommodations, the court has sided with the disabled, most notably in a case last year in which a 7-2 majority ordered the PGA Tour to let golfer Casey Martin use a cart in its tournaments.