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Supreme Court Hears Important Prison ADA Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 9, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case that advocates say could have tremendous implications for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

The original suit was filed in 1999 by Tony Goodman, 41, who has been serving time in the Georgia prison system since 1995 for aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and illegal drug possession with intent to distribute. Goodman, whose spine was severely injured in a 1992 car accident, claimed in the suit that prison officials held him at a high-security unit in a 12-foot by 3-foot cell -- much too narrow to move his wheelchair -- for 23 hours a day. He also claimed that prison staffs refused to help him transfer to the toilet, bed or shower, leaving him to sit in his own bodily wastes. His efforts to use the toilet or shower without assistance, he said, resulted in broken bones and other injuries.

Additionally, Goodman said the failure to provide accessible facilities prevented him from accessing typical prison services, such as the law library, along with recreational opportunities and educational, vocational, and counseling services.

In Goodman v. Georgia, he argued that the prison violated his equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and the ADA's Title II, which covers accessibility in public services, and that he therefore is entitled to $1.2 million for mental suffering and punitive damages.

In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that prisons are considered public programs and are protected under Title II. The issues before the court Wednesday address whether Title II allows prisoners with disabilities to sue states for damages, and whether Congress overstepped its authority under the Fourteenth Amendment in allowing certain elements of the ADA to apply to correctional facilities such as state prisons.

According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, if the court agrees with Goodman, it would "be extremely helpful in arguing that Congress also did so for other types of Title II claims, such as those relating to community integration and education. Depending on the court's analysis, however, an adverse decision in Goodman could call into question whether Congress had the constitutional authority to enact ADA Title II at all."

Dozens of disability rights groups and other organizations representing people with physical and mental disabilities have submitted briefs in support of Goodman. So have the American Bar Association, along with both President George W. Bush and former president George H.W. Bush.

Several states have argued in previous cases that Congress overstepped its bounds when it wrote the ADA.

Last year, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled that states can face lawsuits from individuals if they fail to follow Title II when it comes to the courts. The justices based the ruling in Tennessee v. Lane, however, on guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution for "equal protection under the laws" rather than the ADA.

A decision on the Goodman case is expected by next summer.

"Goodman & United States v. Georgia" (Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law)
"Goodman and United States v. Georgia" (National Council on Disability)
"Justices consider disabled inmate's suit" (Associated Press via Sacramento Bee)
"ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Protect Rights of Disabled Prisoners" (Common Dreams)

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