AG Racine Leads Coalition of 18 AGs in Supreme Court Brief Defending Disability Discrimination Protections

AGs Urge Court to Preserve Legal Standard Enabling Challenges to Policies that Have Discriminatory Effects on Individuals with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today led a coalition of 18 attorneys general urging the Supreme Court to preserve critical legal tools to fight discrimination against Americans with disabilities. 
The attorneys general filed a friend-of-the-court brief in CVS Pharmacy v. Doe, a case concerning whether a health plan is discriminating against HIV-positive individuals by limiting where they can obtain medication for in-network prices. The brief does not support either party in the case. Instead, it urges the Supreme Court to uphold the existing legal standard, which enables challenges to public programs that, through thoughtless design or implementation, have the effect of discriminating against people with disabilities, even if there was no intent to disadvantage those individuals. 

“We must continue knocking down the barriers to full participation in American life that too many individuals with disabilities still face,” said AG Racine. “We’re urging the Supreme Court to ensure everyone – including individuals with disabilities – has access to critical programs, services, and resources. We need to challenge policies that have unintentional harmful effects. And we need to intentionally support Americans with disabilities.”

The Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973 to integrate individuals with disabilities into American life. A key part of the law, Section 504, prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs or activities receiving federal funds, and authorizes legal challenges to discriminatory policies. In a 1985 decision, Alexander v. Choate, the Supreme Court explained that under Section 504, individuals with disabilities must have “meaningful access” to a particular government benefit or program. Over the past 35 years, this standard has become a key part of American law and has enabled challenges to policies that have a discriminatory effect on individuals with disabilities, even when the programs are not intentionally discriminatory.

In their amicus brief filed in CVS Pharmacy v. Doe, the attorneys general do not take a position on the precise outcome of this case. Instead, regardless of how this case comes out, the attorneys general urge the Supreme Court to preserve the existing standard for challenging disability discrimination because:

  • Barriers to full participation by individuals with disabilities are often unintentional: Discrimination against individuals with disabilities often stems from indifference and thoughtlessness rather than intentional actions. Historically, individuals with disabilities faced exclusion from core parts of American society—from health care to education to transportation—because of unintentional barriers and a failure to consider how they could gain access. To ensure inclusion of individuals with disabilities, it is necessary to break down barriers to their participation, including those that were created unintentionally.  
  • Congress intended the Rehabilitation Act to ensure meaningful inclusion of individuals with disabilities: The Rehabilitation Act was intended to end the exclusion of individuals with disabilities, and the architects of Section 504 explained that the primary engines of disability-based exclusion were often “oversight[s],” or instances of “societal neglect.” Congress also reinforced Section 504 by building on it and incorporating it into subsequent legislation.
  • The states rely on this standard: The states have relied on this legal standard to combat disability discrimination for decades and have used it to guide their actions and craft their own laws and regulations. 

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

AG Racine led this brief and was joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.