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Backlash Against the ADA

Reinterpreting Disability Rights

Linda Hamilton Krieger, Editor

Publication Year: 2003

For civil rights lawyers who toiled through the 1980s in the increasingly barren fields of race and sex discrimination law, the approval of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 by a nearly unanimous U.S. House and Senate and a Republican President seemed almost fantastic. Within five years of the Act's effective date, however, observers were warning of an unfolding assault on the ADA by federal judges, the media, and other national opinion-makers. A year after the Supreme Court issued a trio of decisions in the summer of 1999 sharply limiting the ADA's reach, another decision invalidated an entire title of the act as it applied to the states. By this time, disability activists and disability rights lawyers were speaking openly of a backlash against the ADA. What happened, why did it happen, and what can we learn from the patterns of public, media, and judicial response to the ADA that emerged in the 1990s? In this book, a distinguished group of disability activists, disability rights lawyers, social scientists and humanities scholars grapple with these questions. Taken together, these essays construct and illustrate a new and powerful theoretical model of sociolegal change and retrenchment that can inform both the conceptual and theoretical work of scholars and the day-to-day practice of social justice activists. Contributors include Lennard J. Davis, Matthew Diller, Harlan Hahn, Linda Hamilton Krieger, Vicki A. Laden, Stephen L. Percy, Marta Russell, and Gregory Schwartz. Backlash Against the ADA will interest disability rights activists, lawyers, law students and legal scholars interested in social justice and social change movements, and students and scholars in disability studies, political science, media studies, American studies, social movement theory, and legal history. Linda Hamilton Krieger is Professor of Law, University of California School of Law, Berkeley.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability


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pp. 1-25

For civil rights lawyers who had toiled through the 1980s in the increasingly barren fields of race and sex discrimination law, the charmed passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act through the U.S. House and Senate and across a Republican president’s desk must have seemed vaguely surreal. The strongly bipartisan House vote in the summer of 1990 was a remarkable...

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Accommodations and the ADA: Unreasonable Bias or Biased Reasoning?

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pp. 26-61

Among the cleavages marked by gender, age, race or ethnicity, and sexual orientation that divide members of modern society, perhaps few schisms have produced more superficial agreement—and more covert conflict— than the faint, wavering, but ineluctable line that separates self-identified persons with disabilities and the dominant or supposedly nondisabled...

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Judicial Backlash, the ADA, and the Civil Rights Model of Disability

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pp. 62-97

Sometimes, legislation enacted with little fanfare proves profoundly important. Presumably the converse can be true as well: legislation enacted with great expectations can effectuate little real change. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted amid high hopes for the new statute’s sweeping impact. Its statement of purpose proclaims the enormous breadth of its...

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Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Narcissism, and the Law

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pp. 98-121

I am not a lawyer. But when I was a child growing up in the Bronx, my Deaf mother highly recommended that I become one because I was so good at arguing for my position against my parents’ accusations. Instead, I became an English professor and now spend much of my time arguing for my interpretations against those of others. So perhaps things are not so different...

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Plain Meaning and Mitigating Measures: Judicial Construction of the Meaning of Disability

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pp. 122-163

When the Americans with Disabilities Act1 was enacted in 1990, supporters heralded it as broad and transformative legislation. Senator Tom Harkin, one of the act’s chief sponsors, asserted that the ADA was “the most important legislation Congress will ever enact for persons with disabilities.”2 No less enthusiastic, President George Bush signed the bill into law stating that...

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The ADA and the Meaning of Disability

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pp. 164-188

For nearly a decade, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)1 has been the main protection for people with disabilities against discrimination in employment, public accommodations, public transportation, and telecommunications.2 The act, approved in 1990 by bipartisan majorities of 377 to 28 in the House of Representatives and 91 to 6 in the Senate,3 is a comprehensive...

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Psychiatric Disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the New Workplace Violence Account

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pp. 189-220

A few years ago, a new video game hit computer stores, promising killing “[s]o freakin’ real, your victims actually beg for mercy and scream for their lives!”1 The game is called “Postal” and is based on a disgruntled, psychotic postal worker arming himself to the teeth and systematically shooting his way through several different scenarios, including a schoolyard, a construction...

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From Plessy (1896) and Goesart (1948) to Cleburne (1985) and Garrett (2001): A Chill Wind from the Past Blows Equal Protection Away

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pp. 221-253

In its 1948 decision in Goesart v. Cleary,1 the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Michigan statute that prohibited women from working as bartenders, unless they were the spouse or daughter of the establishment’s male owner. While the Court acknowledged that the preceding years had wrought vast social and legal changes in women’s status...

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Backlash, the Political Economy, and Structural Exclusion

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pp. 254-296

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)1 is both a civil rights bill passed by Congress with the intent of ending employer discrimination and a labor economics bill, intended to increase the relative wages and employment of disabled persons by “leveling the playing field.”2 However, just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 produced a backlash by those who feared that minorities...

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Administrative Remedies and Legal Disputes: Evidence on Key Controversies Underlying Implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act

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pp. 297-322

More than a decade has passed since the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990.1 This landmark law grew out of earlier attempts at the national and state levels to craft statutory frameworks protecting the rights and liberties of persons with disabilities.2 With more than a decade of implementation experience behind us, an assessment of the ADA’s...

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The Death of Section 504

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pp. 323-339

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act1 (ADA) was a significant and positive development for the law of disability discrimination. The ADA strengthened the rights that already existed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 19732 by extending those rights to the private sector.3 Because Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act4...

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Sociolegal Backlash

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pp. 340-393

Many of the articles in this book were presented in earlier form at a two-day symposium on public, judicial, and media responses to the Americans with Disabilities Act held at the University of California at Berkeley in the winter of 1999. At different points in the proceedings, various participants suggested that, at least at this point in its history, the disability rights movement...


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pp. 395-398


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pp. 399-408

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025497
E-ISBN-10: 047202549X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068258
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068253

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 2 drawings, 6 tables
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability
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OCLC Number: 613205835
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Backlash Against the ADA

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Subject Headings

  • People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History.
  • People with disabilities -- United States -- History.
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