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Setback for rights of disabled

High court tilts power to states on antibias law.

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The US Supreme Court has once again sided with the states over Congress in a dispute over governmental power.

This time the court, in a 5-to-4 ruling, found that states, in their role as employers of millions of citizens, cannot be sued by workers for discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Yesterday's decision is a setback to disabilities-rights advocates, who have long fought to break down barriers preventing people with disabilities from participating fully in American life. They argued that states, like many private employers, discriminate against individuals because of their disabilities and that they, too, should be held liable.

Instead, the high court dismissed two lawsuits filed against the State of Alabama by state workers suing under the 10-year-old ADA. The court found that 11th Amendment sovereign immunity protected Alabama from such lawsuits.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, said some "half a dozen" examples cited to Congress of discrimination by states against the disabled did not rise to

the level of a pattern of irrational employment discrimination egregious enough to violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

"States are not required by the Fourteenth Amendment to make special accommodations for the disabled, so long as their actions towards such individuals are rational," the chief justice writes. "They could quite hardheadedly - and perhaps hardheartedly - hold to job-qualification requirements which do not make allowance for the disabled."

Continues trend toward states' rights

The decision, joined by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy, marks the most recent in a growing body of federalism decisions since 1995. It is part of a broad trend in which the court's five conservatives, led by Chief Justice Rehnquist, are seeking to restore what they view as key elements of the federal-state power balance as conceived by the nation's Founding Fathers.

One pillar of this federalism is the idea that American government is comprised of dual sovereigns, with both the federal and state governments existing on equal footing. If the federal government - through Congress - was able to impose its will upon the states whenever it wished, the essence of American federalism would disappear.

Defining 'pattern' of discrimination

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