January 13, 2004

TENNESSEE V. LANE was argued before the Supreme Court today. The facts are pretty appalling:

Plaintiffs George Lane and Beverly Jones, both with paraplegia, sued Tennessee for failing to ensure that courthouses are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Both plaintiffs were denied access to courtrooms on the second floors of buildings lacking elevators. One plaintiff, Beverly Jones, worked as a court reporter. The other, George Lane, was a defendant in a criminal case. The state arrested Lane for failure to appear when he refused to crawl or be carried up the stairs.

The actual ADA question involved is somewhat less clear-cut. Personally, I think this case fits under the “Open Courts” provision of the Tennessee Constitution. Here’s a photo blog from the protests outside the Court.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has much more on this. And several readers asked about the “Open Courts” provision of the Tennessee Constitution. It’s found in Art. I sec. 17 and provides, in relevant part :

That all courts shall be open; and every man, for an injury done him in is lands goods, person, or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice administered without sale, denial or delay.

This is generally interpreted as guaranteeing a right of access to the courts, which would seem to me, without much strain, to reach the facts of this case. Note, though, that the remedy would probably be an injunction, not money damages, and that the case before the Supreme Court is all about the Benjamins. I’m not very familiar with this case but I don’t believe the Tennessee Constitution issue was ever raised anywhere. Since I’m teaching a seminar in state constitutional law this semester, I guess I’m more likely to notice this sort of omission than I otherwise would be.

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