Disabled-rights law, which includes the Americans with Disabilities Act along with closely related laws like the Rehabilitation Act (mandating access in government programs) and state disabled-rights statutes, has been back in the news lately. Last week, for example, a federal judge agreed with plaintiffs that the current design of U.S. paper money violates the rights of blind users under the Rehabilitation Act. A California court, as Ted noted last week, issued a ruling attempting to limit (to intentional violations) the broad sweep of that state’s Unruh Act, while the Sacramento Bee recently published the latest of many exposes of “drive-by” accessibility-complaint rackets, which function as a money-making device for the lawyers involved, the complainants, or both.
There’s a good chance that the fitfully pursued debate over whether the ADA and similar laws have gone too far — or perhaps not far enough — will be heating up in the new year. That’s because, as ADA-friendly law professor Sam Bagenstos noted shortly after last month’s election (Nov. 13, via Secunda), disabled-rights advocates may see the balance of forces in Congress shifting favorably toward efforts to resume expansion of the law:
Since the Supreme Court’s 1999 trilogy of definition-of-disability decisions (Sutton, Murphy, and Albertson’s), many in the disability community have felt that it made sense to go back to Congress to get legislation to restore what the main sponsors of the law intended. …For a long time, the fear of opening up the ADA to even more restrictive amendments (like the ADA Notification Act) kept the disability community from mounting a full-scale effort to seek amendments to the statute….
So the natural question is what effect the change in control of Congress will have on this state of affairs. I think it’s now quite a lot more likely that some sort of “ADA Restoration Act” will pass — which isn’t to say that it definitely, or even probably, will pass. It would be smart political strategy for the Democrats in Congress to push issues that hold their party together but that divide the Republicans. Played right, the ADA could be one of those issues.
Indeed, as Prof. Bagenstos notes in his highly informative post, a number of prominent Republicans in Washington are already on record endorsing “ADA restoration” proposals.
Most of the expansion of this field of law in the past has gone on with little real debate or opposition (the ADA itself in 1990 passed the House by a margin of 377-28 and the Senate by 91-6, and Presidents Bush père et fils have been vocal supporters of the law). So in the spirit of, well, diversifying the debate on these laws, we’ll plan on posting something each day this week suitable for our Disabled Rights category.