The disability docket

Penn Carey Law professors Jasmine Harris and Karen Tani have published a paper in American University Law Review that highlights the disability through-line in the Supreme Court’s recent cases.

Thirty-three years ago, the Unites States enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a pivotal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. A new article, “The Disability Docket,” urges the public to recognize how vulnerable this population nonetheless remains, as well as how tightly their interests are tethered to other marginalized groups that hope to protect and enhance their civil rights in the Roberts Court era.

Jasmine Harris and Karen Tani.
Penn Carey Law professors Jasmine Harris and Karen Tani. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Carey Law)

The article is co-authored by University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Professor of Law Jasmine Harris, Seaman Family University Professor Karen Tani and Shira Wakschlag, senior director of Legal Advocacy & General Counsel of The Arc of the United States, and it applies a “disability lens” to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 and 2022 Terms, making the case that more legal areas would benefit from this perspective.

“During the last year, the Supreme Court has received a lot of attention for its radical reshaping of some facets of American law, but disability is a through-line that hasn’t been traced—even though a number of cases grew out of disability-related disputes,” says Harris.

In writing the article, Harris, Tani, and Wakschlag aim to help the American public understand the significance of disability-related cases to important debates about inclusion and resource distribution, as well as to show how non-disability cases may disproportionally impact people with disabilities.

Published in the American University Law Review as part of a symposium on “equal justice under law” in recent and current Supreme Court terms and drawing on insights from disability legal studies and from the trenches of disability advocacy, the article begins by explaining what it means to apply a “disability lens” to the Supreme Court’s docket and why it is worth doing so.

“The core claim is that a disability lens allows us to see themes or patterns that are not otherwise visible,” Tani says. “With a fuller picture, we are better able to make sense of the Court’s handiwork.”

The article highlights three main interventions. First, the piece delves into the disability-related cases that have been a vehicle through which the Court has retrenched civil rights more generally. Second, the authors explain how several cases that are not about disability are likely to have powerful effects on disabled people, including high-profile, high stakes cases such as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. And third, the authors emphasize why the current Supreme Court is a dangerous place for cases that do invoke disability law.

Read more at Penn Carey Law.