Tennessee v. Lane - Oral Argument - January 13, 2004

Tennessee v. Lane

Media for Tennessee v. Lane

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 17, 2004 in Tennessee v. Lane

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 2004 in Tennessee v. Lane

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 02-1667, Tennessee v. George Lane.

Mr. Moore.

Michael E. Moore:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Whether the Court chooses to view Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the entirety of its indiscriminate application through every facet of every state program, activity, and service, or in the alternative, as the private respondents urge, in the narrow courthouse access context, presented by the particular allegations of the complaint they have filed in this case, the Court should conclude that Title II exceeds Congress' enforcement authority under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment for essentially two reasons.

First, because there was no evidence before Congress that the states were involved in a widespread pattern of violations of the Fourteenth Amendment rights of disabled persons when the ADA was enacted in 1990.

And second, because Title II shares all of the incongruent and disproportionate features that proved fatal to Title I of the same statute in the Garrett case and then some.

Title II's lack of congruence and proportionality to any identified constitutional injury inflicted upon disabled persons by the states is apparent, we say, on the face of the statute.

Congress made no effort to tailor its provisions to those contexts which might conceivably pose a threat to the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights by individuals with disabilities.

Instead, Title II applies indiscriminately to every service, program, or activity of the states.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Let's assume that the... that the state... and it's just an assumption... would concede that sovereign immunity could be abrogated insofar as access to courthouses for handicapped people, so that Congress could have drafted a congruent and proportional statute.

The fact that this injury comes within a statute which has a much larger coverage is grounds for striking the statute down, even though this case involves what we will assume to be a... an injury that could be remedied under the Fourteenth Amendment with money damages?

Michael E. Moore:

Your Honor's question focuses on a debate that we really haven't engaged in.

It's... it's one between the respondents and the United States, because in our view, whether the Court views the statute in its... in overall operation, or as focused narrowly on the courthouse access context, either analysis leads to the same conclusion.

Having said that, I would say that the prohibition of Title II is a single, unitary, very elegant one-sentence prohibition in section 12132 of Title 42.

It doesn't purport to subdivide the statute... the statute's prohibitions into particular subject matter areas.

And as the United States points out in its brief, this Court's prior congruence and proportionality cases in... in the abrogation context suggest that the Court looks usually at the overall operation of the statute.

If the Court chooses that perspective on this problem, we think yes indeed, even if the statute, assuming the statute, a narrowly-tailored statute could have been drafted that would validly abrogate sovereign immunity in the courthouse access context, Title II's flaw is that it is not so targeted.

In fact, of the myriad activities it covers, Your Honor, a very small percentage conceivably implicate the exercise of any constitutional right.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Moore, does Tennessee provide any cause of action for the alleged violations here, the lack of access to the courthouse?

Michael E. Moore:

No private right of action under our State Public Buildings Act.

Our State Public Buildings Act, Your Honor, was enacted in 1970.

It applied to all buildings constructed on or after that date.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So you're satisfied that under Tennessee law, there would be no monetary relief available?

Michael E. Moore:

I think that is... I think that is right.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And would there be any enforcement action at all available to compel under Tennessee law the courthouses to be accessible?

Michael E. Moore:

No, Your Honor, because under Tennessee law, the... the injunction to build fully accessible buildings applies to buildings constructed after the enactment of the Public Buildings Act in 1970.

There is no provision in the Public Buildings Act requiring retrofitting.

But, of course, in this case, Tennessee does not dispute its obligation to comply with Title II, and we do not dispute that our state officials can be called to account for a failure to comply with the provisions of Title II in an Ex parte Young action.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, do you take the position that Title II, even if this Court were to find monetary damages are not available, is there a way to enforce Title II by the Federal Government against the State of Tennessee?

Michael E. Moore:

Yes, Your Honor, there is, in an enforcement action by the United States, injunctive relief and monetary damages would be available against the state.