Upcoming Supreme Court Term Includes Important Cases on Civil Rights, Constitutional Liberties, States’ Rights

“States’ Rights”: the ADA, the 11th Amendment, Telecommunications Regulation

Tennessee v. Lane, reviewing decision at 315 F.3d 680 (6th Cir.2003).
Following a 2001 5-4 decision by the Court that an important part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was unconstitutional as applied to the states, this case poses the same question about another key section of the ADA. Beverly Jones and George Lane, who are paraplegics, sued the State of Tennessee under Title II of the ADA for failing to ensure that its courtrooms are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Jones was a court reporter who was unable to get to work in a courtroom on the second floor because the building lacked elevators. Lane was a criminal defendant who was arrested for failure to appear in court when he refused to be carried up or to crawl up the stairs to a courtroom. The state moved to dismiss the case on sovereign immunity grounds, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority by subjecting the state of Tennessee to suit through the statute. The district court denied Tennessee’s request and held that the case could proceed, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, and the Court agreed to review the ruling. The Supreme Court held in Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001), that the ADA unconstitutionally authorized individuals to states for money damages under the employment provisions of the ADA. The Supreme Court must now decide if individuals can sue the state for money damages under Title II of the ADA, or if that provision will also be ruled unconstitutional as applied to the states..

Frew v. Hawkins, reviewing Frazar v. Gilbert, 300 F.3d 530 ( 5th Cir.2002)
A class action suit on behalf of indigent children in Texas was filed against the Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner and others claiming the children received inadequate health care under a federally mandated program. The suit was settled through a consent decree that laid out detailed procedures for Texas health officials to follow to meet federal guidelines. Later, Linda Frew and other parents complained that these obligations were not being met. The court ruled that the state must present an action plan for remedying violations of the consent decree. In response, state officials contended the health care program had improved substantially and appealed to the Fifth Circuit, claiming immunity from enforcement of the decree under the 11th Amendment. The Fifth Circuit agreed that the 11th Amendment barred enforcement of the consent decree, even though state health officials had previously agreed to it. The Supreme Court agreed to review two questions: 1) Whether states implicitly forfeit 11th Amendment rights when they enter into a court-approved consent decree based on federal law that requires ongoing judicial supervision, and 2) Whether in order for a district court to enforce a consent decree, the violations must also be violations of federal rights.

Southwestern Bell Tel. v. Mo. Municipal League, reviewing Missouri Municipal League v. FCC, 299 F.3d 949 (8th Cir. 2002).
At issue is a Missouri state statute that precludes Missouri municipalities from providing local telecommunications services. Various local groups contend that the Missouri law is pre-empted by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (47 USC § 253), which bars states from prohibiting “any entity” from providing telecommunications services. The Eighth Circuit held that the language “any entity” included these local municipalities and therefore the Missouri law was preempted. Missouri argues this interferes with states' rights to handle their own regulation of municipal entity authority without federal interference. The Supreme Court will decide whether the Telecommunications Act preempts a state law prohibiting political subdivisions of the state from offering telecommunications service to the public.

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