Friday, August 7, 2009

Sen. Harkin's statement on Senate vote to confirm Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court

Sen. Harkin's statement specifically addressed disability cases.

I also firmly believe that Judge Sotomayor will be an important and needed voice on the Court to ensure proper effect is given to our most important statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Civil Rights Act, and the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), so all Americans receive the fullest protections of the law.

“This is illustrated in an area of the law that I care deeply about – disabilities rights. Unfortunately, as many in Congress know, the Rehnquist Court repeatedly misread the ADA, ignored the intent of Congress and narrowed the scope of individuals deemed eligible for protection under the ADA. The result of these decisions was to eliminate protection for countless thousands of Americans with disabilities. These flawed, harmful decisions were reversed last year when Congress unanimously enacted the ADA Amendments Act.

He goes on to talk about the Bartlett learning disabilities case as well as Judge Sotomayor's understand of the ADA. She wrote:

“For those of us for whom words sing, sentences paint pictures, and paragraphs create panoramic views of the world, the inability to identify and process words with ease would be crippling. Plaintiff, an obviously intelligent, highly articulate individual reads slowly, haltingly, and laboriously. She simply does not read in the manner of an average person. I reject the basic premise of defendants’ experts that a learning disability in reading can be identified solely by a person’s inability to decode, i.e., identify words, as measured by standardized tests, and I accept instead the basic premise of plaintiff’s experts that a learning disability in reading has to be identified in the context of an individual’s total processing difficulties.”

and Sen. Harkin notes:

“As the Congressional Research Service noted, “She anticipated the legislative discussions surrounding the ADA Amendments Act by finding the use of self accommodations did not mean that the plaintiff was not an individual with a disability.”

“The contrast with Judge Sotomayor is telling. In Parker v. Columbia Pictures, she addressed the very same question in the disabilities context – whether a plaintiff need show discrimination was a “motivating factor” or “but-for” cause under the ADA. In contrast to Justice Thomas’s opinion in Gross, she carefully analyzed the statutory language, intent of Congress and precedents and noted that “Congress intended the statute . . . to cover situations in which discrimination on the basis of disability is one factor, but not the only factor, motivating an adverse employment action.”

His full statement can be read here.

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