WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke today at a press conference regarding a landmark test of the historical Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in State of Tennessee v. George Lane and Beverly Jones, a case that could drastically limit enforcement of key provisions in the ADA that protect millions of people with disabilities from discrimination by public entities. The following is Representative Hoyer’s statement as prepared for delivery:
“July 26, 1990 was one of my proudest moments in public service. Most of you were there with me that day. I'll never forget it -- 2,000 advocates for the disabled -- some in wheelchairs, some with seeing-eye dogs -- on the south lawn at the White House as President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
“The signing of the ADA heralded a new day for disabled Americans. And it was passed in response to overwhelming evidence of systemic discrimination and exclusion that was a result of centuries of prejudice, including discrimination at the state and local level.
“In the years since the ADA was passed, there has been significant change. Thousands of disabled Americans have entered the workforce. Ramps, curb cuts, Braille signs, and captioned television programs that were once novel are now ubiquitous. But I always knew the passage of this law alone would not change hearts and attitudes overnight.
“Our work is not done, especially in upholding the intent and scope of the ADA. Title II of the ADA states that "...no...individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." Simply put: disabled Americans are not to be discriminated against by the states and local governments.
“And part and parcel of that protection is that it must be enforceable by allowing individuals like George Lane to hold their state accountable. With passage of the ADA, Congress invoked its constitutional authority to afford every American with equal protection under the law.
“In recent years the Supreme Court has followed a disturbing trend to narrow the scope and intent of the ADA. Tennessee v. Lane has the potential to go down a dangerous road -- and declare that the ADA need not apply to the states.
“When George Lane was faced with the choice of crawling up the stairs or being arrested, he suffered an indignity that no American should ever face.
“The fight was not over in 1990. We must remain vigilant for disabled Americans until we finish the job. And I remain committed to this fight as long as I am in Congress.”