Monday, June 06, 2005

Partial but Significant Win for the Plaintiffs in Spector

This morning, the Supreme Court announced its judgment in Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Lines Ltd., which involved the question whether Title III of the ADA applies to foreign-flag cruise ships. In what the cliche calls a "highly fractured" decision, the Court delivered the plaintiffs a partial but significant win. Here's my quick read:

Justice Kennedy wrote the lead opinion. In a portion that wrote for the Court (joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer), his opinion held that Title III's plain text covers foreign-flag cruise ships, but that the statute would not apply in cases where its requirements conflicted with international legal obligations. In a portion that was joined only by Justices Stevens and Souter, Justice Kennedy concluded that Title III also would not apply to foreign-flag cruise ships to the extent that it interferes with a vessel's internal affairs and operations. (Justice Thomas, in a separate partial concurrence, agreed with that conclusion.) In that part of his opinion, Justice Kennedy recognized that most of the plaintiffs' claims had nothing to do with "internal affairs and operations"; only the claims involving physical barriers to access on board the ships had any plausible effect on "internal affairs and operations."

Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Breyer, concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. She would hold that Title III applies even to matters involving "internal affairs and operations" of foreign-flag cruise ships, so long as the statute's requirements do not actually conflict with international legal obligations.

Justice Scalia, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice O'Connor (and in part by Justice Thomas), dissented. He would hold that because some of Title III's requirements implicate the internal ofder of foreign-flag cruise ships, the statute could not apply to such ships.

(Disclosure: I provided some minor help to Tom Goldstein and Pam Karlan and their Supreme Court clinic on this case.)


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