The Constitutional Status of the ADA: An Examination of Alsbrook V. City of Maumelle in Light of Recent Supreme Court Decisions concerning the 11th Amendment

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The 11 th Amendment protects state actors from suit in federal court by their own citizens or citizens of other states.1 Congress, however, can pass statutes that nullify 11th Amendment immunity under certain circumstances, making state actors vulnerable to suit in federal court.2 This power to nullify, or abrogate, state immunity has been limited by the courts in order to maintain the fundamental constitutional balance of power between the federal government and the states.3 In this regard, if a court determines that Congress did not properly abrogate l lth Amendment immunity in enacting a particular statute, a plaintiff cannot sue a state entity under that statute in federal court.4 In addition, because a state must first consent to suit in its own courts,5 a state can effectively bar all suits brought against it under a federal statute if that statute is deemed to be an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power.6

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed these limits on Congress's ability to abrogate states' 11th Amendment immunity.7 Most recently, in Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents,8 the Court held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)9 is unconstitutional as applied to state actors.10 The Supreme Court focused its decision on whether Congress was validly exercising its power to enforce the equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment when it enacted the statute, such that the immunity of the states from suit in federal courts could be negated.11 The Kimmel reasoning has sparked a nationwide debate about whether the numerous persons employed by state entities will be able to sue their employers under other federal discrimination statutes.12

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)13 is vulnerable to constitutional attack because it protects a non-suspect class, like the ADEA, and it places significant affirmative obligations upon employers to make accommodations on behalf of disabled persons.14 The fact that providing these accommodations may be very expensive makes the constitutionality of the ADA very significant to state actors. State employees also have an important stake in this debate because not all states have a statute that parallels the ADA. Thus, if the ADA is deemed unconstitutional as applied to state actors, some state employees may be left with a decreased remedy or no remedy at all for disability discrimination. Although most circuit courts that have addressed this issue have determined that the ADA is constitutional,15 the Supreme Court is likely to reach an opposite conclusion.16

The Supreme Court will likely address this issue in the near future, and when it does, its decision would most likely minor that of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in Alsbrook v. City of Maumelle,17 which held that the ADA is unconstitutional as applied to state actors.18 In dismissing a disability discrimination claim against the state of Arkansas and one of its agencies, the court held that Title II19 of the ADA was not a proper exercise of Congress's enforcement power under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment.20 Thus, the court concluded that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the ADA claim because there was not a valid nullification of the State of Arkansas' 11 th Amendment immunity from suit in federal court.21

This Article analyzes the Alsbrook decision in light of the Supreme Court's recent decisions and addresses whether the Alsbrook court correctly determined that the ADA is unconstitutional as applied to state actors. Section II provides a brief background of the ADA and sets forth the manner in which the ADA differs from other anti-discrimination statutes that protect suspect classes. Section III reviews the 8th Circuit's opinion in Alsbrook v. City of Maumelle. The final section analyzes the Alsbrook opinion and the various constitutional issues raised by it, concluding that there is a sound basis for the 8th Circuit's holding that the ADA is unconstitutional as applied to state actors. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.