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Justices Limit Disability Law

February 21, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court limited the reach of the Americans With Disabilities Act, ruling Wednesday that state workers cannot file employment-discrimination lawsuits against their employers under the federal disability-rights law.

The 5-4 ruling, a further cutback of the federal government’s power over the states, said Congress exceeded its authority when it let state workers file such claims under the 1990 law.

The federal law does not trump states’ 11th Amendment immunity against being sued in federal courts, the justices said.

``We decide here whether employees of the state of Alabama may recover money damages by reason of the state’s failure to comply with the (employment discrimination) provisions of Title 1 of the Americans With Disabilities Act. We hold that such suits are barred by the 11th Amendment,″ Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court.

The ruling in an Alabama case added to the court’s series of decisions that have increasingly tipped the federal-state balance of power toward the states.

Those decisions have all featured the same 5-4 split among the justices, and that lineup was repeated in Wednesday’s decision.

Joining Rehnquist were Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Dissenting were Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

Writing for the four, Breyer said, ``The court ... improperly invades a power that the Constitution assigns to Congress.″

In January 2000, the justices barred state workers from suing their employers in federal court under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. That ruling said the law could not override states’ immunity against being sued in federal court.

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