For Immediate Release
February 14, 2022

Will the Next Supreme Court Justice Protect the Rights of People with Disabilities?

Very soon, President Biden will announce a nominee for the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in our nation, to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who will retire this summer.

President Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. The Bazelon Center applauds this commitment, which is long overdue. 
We hope that the President’s nominee will also be a judge or lawyer who has demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to a fair day in court for people with disabilities and other historically marginalized populations.

Tell the President We Need a Disability Civil Rights Leader on the Supreme Court!

For 28 years, Justice Breyer has been a strong voice on the Supreme Court for disability rights and other civil rights. He has consistently voted to protect the rights of people with disabilities, including in cases involving our landmark disability civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

With the current Supreme Court’s conservative majority, having a new Justice on the Court who understands disability and other civil rights laws, and who is committed to a fair day in court for people bringing claims under this law, is critical.

Contact the White House at (202) 456-1111 (phone), (202) 456-6213 (TTY) or online at President Biden know that you want a nominee who will understand the importance of disability rights and other civil rights!

To protect the rights of people with disabilities, we ask President Biden to:
  • Choose a justice who respects the role of Congress in protecting disability rights. In enacting the ADA and other disability rights laws, Congress carefully considered the history of people with disabilities in the United States. As Justice Breyer wrote in dissent in Board of Trustees v. Garrett (2001), Congress recognized scores of examples of how people with disabilities have been harmed by disability discrimination in this country, including in the workplace and in state and local government programs. In Tennessee v. Lane (2004) and United States v. Georgia (2008), Justice Breyer was a critical vote in affirming the constitutionality of the ADA. We want President Biden to choose a Supreme Court nominee who will respect Congress’s important role and hard work in writing and enacting the ADA and other disability rights laws, which so many people with disabilities depend on to protect them from discrimination.

  • Choose a justice who understands the impact of Supreme Court decisions on people with disabilities.  Supreme Court decisions have consequences, not just for the parties before the Court, but for everyone. For example, in P.G.A. Tour, Inc., v. Martin (2001), the Supreme Court ruled that Casey Martin, a golfer with a mobility disability, could use a golf cart on the PGA tour. This decision, which Justice Breyer joined, made it easier for everyone, including students and workers (not just golfers), to get the accommodations they need to have an equal opportunity. Writing in dissent in another case, Arlington Central School District v. Murphy (2006), Justice Breyer argued that the right to special education for students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) means little if parents can’t afford to fight for this right. We want President Biden to choose a Supreme Court nominee who understands how important Supreme Court decisions are to the everyday lives of people with disabilities and their families.  

  • Choose a justice who respects precedent. Everyone makes choices in life, such as asking for reasonable accommodations in the workplace or in school, or choosing medical care and health insurance, based on an understanding of their legal rights as interpreted in past Supreme Court decisions. Justice Breyer has played a significant role in the Supreme Court’s decisions protecting the rights of people with disabilities for the last three decades. He provided a critical vote for the Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), which held that the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination that violates the ADA. He also joined the Court’s majority in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017), which announced a new and more demanding standard for what schools must do to educate students with disabilities, and in all three cases affirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides critical support for medical care and long-term services for people with disabilities. We want President Biden to choose a Supreme Court nominee who, like Justice Breyer, respects the role of past Supreme Court decisions in setting expectations for people with disabilities.  

  • Choose a justice who understands intersectionality. People with disabilities have other identities and are often members of other historically marginalized communities. Disability rights are civil rights, and disability discrimination is often accompanied by other forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. In cases including Alexander v. Sandoval (2001) and Shelby County v. Holder (2013), Justice Breyer joined dissenting opinions strongly supporting interpreting civil rights laws intended to prohibit race discrimination. In United States v. Virginia (1996), Justice Breyer joined the Court’s majority decision affirming the Constitutional’s robust protections against sex discrimination and in Bostock v. Clayton County (2020) he joined the Court’s decision that LGBTQ people are protected under our federal employment discrimination laws. We want President Biden to choose a Supreme Court nominee who understands that people with disabilities often face other types of discrimination, too, and need strong civil rights laws that protect against such treatment. Disability justice demands no less.