This morning, almost exactly two months after the argument, the Supreme Court issued its decision
in the companion cases of United States v. Georgia
and Goodman v. Georgia
. The case involved the constitutionality of the ADA's abrogation of state sovereign immunity in the state prison context. The Eleventh Circuit had held that plaintiff Goodman's claims were barred by sovereign immunity because Title II of the ADA is not valid Fourteenth Amendment enforcement legislation in the prison context.
The Supreme Court reversed, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Scalia. The Court observed that Mr. Goodman's ADA claims "were evidently based, at least in large part, on conduct that independently violated the provisions of s. 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment" (and the Bill of Rights protections incorporated therein). "While the Members of this Court have disagreed regarding the scope of Congress's 'prophylactic' enforcement powers under s 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment," the Court's opinion stated, "no one doubts that s 5 grants Congress the power to 'enforce . . the provisions' of the Amendment by creating private remedies against the States for actual
violations of those provisions." Accordingly, at least "insofar as Title II creates a private cause of action for damages against the States for conduct that actually
violates the Fourteenth Amendment, Title II validly abrogates state sovereign immunity."
Because it was unclear to what extent Mr. Goodman's ADA claims went beyond conduct that actually violates the Constitution, and the Eleventh Circuit, in the case under review, had already remanded to permit Mr. Goodman to file an amended complaint, the Court left it to the lower courts "to determine in the first instance, on a claim-by-claim basis, (1) which aspects of the State's alleged conduct violated Title II; (2) to what extent such misconduct also violated the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) insofar as such misconduct violated Title II but did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, whether Congress's purported abrogation of sovereign immunity as to that class of conduct is nevertheless valid." Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Ginsburg, filed a brief concurrence emphasizing that the entire "contellation of rights applicable in the prison context," and not merely Eighth Amendment rights, are relevant to the Section 5 issue in the prison setting.
This is a somewhat narrow win for the plaintiffs (and their counsel, who included Seth Galanter, Beth Brinkmann, and Drew Days, all of Morrison and Foerster, as well as me), but it is hardly as narrow as it could have been. The state and its amici argued that the ADA is not ever valid prophylactic Section 5 legislation as applied to the prison context. Rather than endorsing or rejecting that argument, the Court left the issue open.
But what's most important about this case is that the Court made clear, really for the first time, that the ADA is valid remedial Section 5 legislation in any case in which the state conduct that violates the ADA also violates the Constitution. There is no requirement that the plaintiff show a history and pattern of past state constitutional violations in such cases; the fact that the conduct challenged by the plaintiff violated the Constitution is enough. The Court's decision also made clear that the as-applied analysis in Tennessee v. Lane
was not a sport; the constitutionality of any application of the ADA must be determined "on a claim-by claim basis." (That doesn't mean that an entire category of applications can't be upheld as constitutional. Often, as in Lane
, the same reasons that make the ADA proper as applied to one plaintiff's claim will equally well apply to an entire "class of cases.") Lower courts, like the Eighth Circuit in Bill M.
, that have held that an as-applied analysis may be employed only in the access-to-courts context, should see this as a rebuff.