Susan Gluck Mezey, Ph.D., J.D., is a professor of political science at Loyola University, Chicago. She is former director of Loyola’s Women’s Studies Program and chair of the 1999 Forum on the Child. She is the author of Pitiful Plaintiffs: Child Welfare Litigation and the Federal Courts; No Longer Disabled: The Federal Courts and the Politics of Social Security Disability; In Pursuit of Equality: Women, Public Policy, and the Federal Courts; and Children in Court: Public Policymaking and Federal Court Decisions. Her articles have appeared in Law & Policy, Journal of Politics, American Politics Quarterly, Rutgers Law Review, Women and Politics, Judicature, Policy Studies Review, Family Law Quarterly, and Policy Studies Journal.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was intended to send a clear message to society that discrimination on the basis of disability is unacceptable. As with most civil rights laws, the courts were given primary responsibility for implementing disability rights policy.
Mezey argues that the act has not fulfilled its potential primarily because of the judiciary's “disabling interpretations” in adjudicating ADA claims. In the decade of litigation following the enactment of the ADA, judicial interpretation of the law has largely constricted the parameters of disability rights and excluded large numbers of claimants from the reach of the law. The Supreme Court has not interpreted the act broadly, as was intended by Congress, and this method of decision making was for the most part mirrored by the courts below. The high court's rulings to expand state sovereign immunity and insulate states from liability in damage suits has also caused claimants to become enmeshed in litigation and has encouraged defendants to challenge other laws affecting disability rights. Despite the law's strong civil rights rhetoric, disability rights remain an imperfectly realized goal.