Landmark civil rights case could be reviewed by the Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has given Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire a second extension, until October 22, to decide whether to appeal a recent court of appeals decision that could give the high court a chance to revisit its landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C..

Disability rights advocates are strongly urging the governor to drop the case. The Olmstead decision, considered the disability community’s Brown v. Board of Education, upheld the Americans with Disabilities Act’s integration mandate barring the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities.

In the lawsuit presently at issue, M.R. v. Dreyfus, a group of Washington State residents sued the state after it enacted 10 percent across-the-board cuts in 2010 to its Medicaid-funded in-home care services. In December 2011, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the decision violated the ADA by placing recipients of these services at-risk of being forced to move into institutional-settings.

The Olmstead decision, a 6-3 decision from 1999, upheld the ADA’s integration mandate on narrow statutory grounds. If the Dreyfus decision is reviewed by the Supreme Court, the justices would have an attempt to analyze the law under broader constitutional grounds and narrow, or even overrule, the Olmstead decision.

“The impact of this drama goes far beyond Washington. In many states, Olmstead is the only thing preventing draconian budget cuts that could force thousands of disabled and elderly Americans out of their homes and into institutions,” the Seattle Times stated in a September 14 editorial. “Furthermore, under Assistant Attorney General Perez’s leadership, the Justice Department has used the Olmstead decision to make the case for deinstitutionalization and community-employment opportunities for people with disabilities across the country.

All that could be lost if Gov. Gregoire gives a more conservative Supreme Court another chance to turn back the clock on our basic rights.”

In a recent letter to the governor, 23 Washington State disability advocacy groups commended Gregoire for her efforts as state attorney general and governor to expand community disability services, warning that her legacy would be tarnished if the Supreme Court uses the case to continue its efforts to reshape the Medicaid program, especially in light of its recent decision regarding the Affordable Care Act in June.

“In recent years, the Supreme Court has become increasingly restrictive in its view of Congressional power to protect the most vulnerable Americans and has repeatedly reached out to decide questions affecting individuals’ rights that it need not have addressed” the advocacy groups stated. “Seeking certiorari in M.R. v. Dreyfus could result in a ruling that significantly diminishes the right of people with disabilities to live in integrated settings and be full participants in their communities.”

The National Disability Rights Network, in a letter signed by 33 national disability advocacy groups, also urged Gregoire to drop the case, warning of the potential devastating consequences for people with disabilities.

Additional information from Disability Rights Washington on the case can be read here.