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Alito Threatens Disability Rights Laws, Advocates Charge

by Brendan Coyne

Dec. 14, 2005 – People with disabilities and their advocates are questioning Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito’s commitment to upholding established law and protecting the hard-won rights of disabled people.

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A coalition of organizations defending the civil rights of people with disabilities has announced its opposition to the Third Circuit Court judge’s ascension to the nation’s highest court. The coalition says a number of Alito’s previous decisions show a pattern of disregard for the laws protecting disabled people from discrimination.

Most threatening, according to information collected by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, are opinions Alito took on cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Fair Housing Amendments Act. Taken together, the three laws broadly cover community and employment discrimination and provide the backbone for many other federal, state and local laws protecting the rights of physically and mentally impaired people.

Among decisions highlighted in the Bazelon report is a 2000 ruling that Congress lacked the power to implement the unpaid leave portion of the FMLA. Also noted are a 1999 finding that a disability-rights group lacked legal standing to sue the Department of Housing and Urban Development over failing to enforce its own regulations and a decision in 2002 that depression and sleep disorders are not covered by the ADA.

Additionally, Alito’s previous dissents on cases upholding firearm regulations "demonstrate a very narrow reading of Congress’ power to legislate under the Interstate Commerce Clause," the Bazelon report noted. Disability rights cases reaching the Supreme Court recently have hinged on whether the federal government has the authority to force states to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

The loose coalition includes ADA Watch, a project of the National Coalition for Disability Rights; the Bazelon Center, a legal advocate for mentally disabled people; and the National Council on Independent Living, a grassroots disability rights organization.

In an internet petition, ADA Watch called Alito "well outside the mainstream of legal and public opinion." The group intends to hand-deliver the petition and is also urging disability-rights supporters to send letters to Senators and pass on information about the nominee’s record to others.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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