Tennessee v. Lane

541 U.S. 509, 124 S. Ct. 1978 (2004)



42 U.S.C.S. §§ 12131-12134 prohibit any public entity from discriminating against qualified persons with disabilities in the provision or operation of public services, programs, or activities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12131 et seq., defines the term "public entity" to include state and local governments, as well as their agencies and instrumentalities. 42 U.S.C.S. § 12131(1). Persons with disabilities are qualified if they, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meet the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity. § 12131(2). The enforcement provision incorporates by reference § 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically 29 U.S.C.S. § 794a, which authorizes private citizens to bring suits for money damages. 


Paraplegics sued petitioner State of Tennessee alleging that the State failed to provide reasonable access to court facilities in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied the State's claim of sovereign immunity. On certiorari, the state contended that the abrogation of state sovereign immunity in Title II of the ADA exceeded congressional authority under U.S. Const. amend XIV, § 5, to enforce substantive constitutional guarantees. 


Is Title II a valid exercise of Congress's powers?




The United States Supreme Court held, however, that Title II, as it applied to the class of cases implicating the fundamental right of access to the courts, constituted a valid exercise of Congress's authority. Title II was responsive to evidence of pervasive unequal treatment of persons with disabilities in the administration of state services and programs, and such disability discrimination was thus an appropriate subject for prophylactic legislation. Regardless of whether the State could be subjected to liability for failing to provide access to other facilities or services, the fundamental right of access to the courts warranted the limited requirement that the State reasonably accommodate disabled persons to provide such access. Title II was thus a reasonable prophylactic measure, reasonably targeted to a legitimate end.

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