Telling It Like It Is

We are here today because our civil rights are under attack. We are here because some of the top leaders of the Democratic Party in California have betrayed their promise to defend those rights. We are here to demand that they honor their pledge. We are here to warn every elected leader, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, Don’t
Tread on the ADA!

We are outraged that California’s Democratic leaders have filed, not just one, but two appeals to the United States Supreme Court to nullify enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act at both the state and local levels. In Medical Board of California v. Hason, California Attorney
General Bill Lockyer is calling on the Supreme Court to rule that the ADA violates the sovereign immunity of the states under the 11th Amendment. In effect, he is petitioning the court to strike down Title II as unconstitutional.

This is a view of the U.S. Constitution that one usually
associates with right-wing judicial activists like Jeffrey Sutton and Antonin Scalia. It is an archaic and discredited system of constitutional interpretation. It is an argument that was used by states rights advocates like Strom Thurmond to defend racial segregation. It is now being deployed to maintain the segregation of people with disabilities.

If a majority of the Supreme Court agrees with this argument, as it is likely to do, in most states most people with disabilities will have no legal protection against discrimination inflicted on them by state governments. They will have no legal weapon to defend themselves against such discrimination.

They will have no means of redress for violations of their right
of access to public transportation.

Parents of children with disabilities will have no means to ensure the right of those youngsters to attend public schools.
Citizens with disabilities will have no way to enforce their right
of access to publicly funded programs and services.

Deaf people will have no legal tool to compel state agencies to
provide interpreters or open captioning at public meetings or hearings.

Deaf students will have no legal right to classroom interpreters.

Citizens with disabilities everywhere will be unable to sue any
state agencies anywhere in the country for violating their civil rights.

The second appeal to the United States Supreme Court comes from the city in which we gather to petition for redress of our grievances. I am dismayed to say that it comes from the capital of our state, the City of Sacramento.

For years, Sacramento fought against complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It finally lost in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, the city at long last began to install curb cuts.

Now in Barden v. Sacramento, the city is seeking to overturn the 9th Circuit’s decision. The ADA requires that sidewalks be accessible along their full length, their complete path of travel, not just at street corners.

But Sacramento makes the ludicrous argument that the ADA requires only curb cuts at intersections. By this logic, people with disabilities have a legal right to cross the street, but no right to go down the block.

Just as disturbing, in order to enlist other cities in supporting
Sacramento’s appeal, the Democratic leadership here told every city in the country that the 9th Circuit’s ruling will require them to remove all sidewalk barriers immediately, regardless of cost.

This is the sort of outrageous lie that has been spread by the
enemies of the ADA and of the civil rights of Americans with disabilities. Sacramento’s Democrat leaders know full well that both the 9th Circuit’s decision and, more important, the ADA itself do not require any action that would cause undue financial or administrative burden. The court and the ADA only mandate that cities include in their construction and maintenance provisions to incorporate progress toward accessibility.

More than 200 cities have joined Sacramento’s appeal against the ADA and our right of equal access. A spokesperson for the California League of Cities rationalized this attack on our rights by declaring: “It’s a question of resources. Governments have to make sure bridges
don’t fall down and children go to school in public buildings where the toilets flush.”

How dare they present our civil rights as competing with the needs of schoolchildren?

How dare they pit our safe and free passage against the safety of the general public?

In effect they are declaring that citizens with disabilities have
no right to use the public sidewalks. But freedom of movement is a historic and cherished American right. If the City of Sacramento wins its appeal, local governments around the U.S. will be able to flout that right of disabled citizens by using the false excuse of financial hardship.

I don’t want you to think that we have no allies in this fight,
and only enemies. We have supporters. There are champions ready to defend our civil rights.

One such champion is San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn. At first Mr. Gwinn joined Sacramento’s appeal. Then he met with local disability rights advocates. In response to their arguments, he went back and studied the law and, he says, did some “soul searching.” He listened to the activists. He met with them again. He told them: “I agree with you. This is about civil rights.” He withdrew San Diego’s support of Sacramento’s appeal.

We call upon Sacramento’s City Attorney Samuel Jackson to go back and study the law and to search his soul.

We call upon cities throughout the state of California and the
United States to withdraw from this suit. We insist that they ensure the right of citizens with disabilities to equal access, not just on sidewalks, but in all municipal facilities and services.

We demand that Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Governor Gray Davis fulfill the pledge of the California Democratic Party platform and defend the ADA by withdrawing the state’s appeal in the Hason case.

We call upon all elected leaders, not just Democrats, but
Republicans too, to uphold the civil rights of citizens with disabilities. And to view the guarantee of those rights, not as a burden, but as a badge of honor.

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