Attorney General Bonta Joins Coalition Working to Protect Access for Individuals with Disabilities

Friday, September 10, 2021
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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a multistate coalition of attorneys general in defending the accessibility of programs and services for people with disabilities. In an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case CVS Pharmacy v. Doe, the coalition urged the Court to preserve a 36-year-old precedent that requires federally funded entities to provide people with disabilities “meaningful access” to services. This long-standing legal standard prohibits not only intentionally discriminatory policies, but also some policies that have an unintentional discriminatory impact on individuals with disabilities.

“Discrimination does not have to be intentional to be harmful,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today, I joined my fellow attorneys general in urging the highest court in this country to recognize this by upholding the valuable precedent set forth in Alexander v. Choate. People with disabilities should have meaningful access to all aspects of life in our communities, especially publicly funded programs.”

Nearly 50 years ago, Congress enacted Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities “solely by reason of her or his disability” by any program or activity receiving or benefiting from federal financial assistance. In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Alexander v. Choate that Section 504 prohibits any deprivation of “meaningful access” to federally funded programs and activities, even policies that don’t purposefully exclude persons with disabilities. This legal standard has been adopted by nearly every federal appeals court in the country, used by Congress when making new laws, and applied by multiple presidential administrations. States like California and others in the coalition have also relied on the Choate decision when creating laws and policies that ensure people with disabilities have meaningful access to programs and services.

In today’s brief, the coalition argues that the Choate decision correctly interpreted Congress’ objective to fully integrate individuals with disabilities into core aspects of American life when it enacted the Rehabilitation Act. Congress recognized that exclusion of individuals with disabilities, whether through a poorly designed park, school, hospital, or public program, was often unintentional. Even so, when policies or services create barriers to meaningful access, they become discriminatory. Rather than simply prohibiting intentional discrimination, Section 504 sought to eliminate systemic barriers that exclude people with disabilities.

The Supreme Court’s review of Choate is particularly significant for Californians as it could have a direct impact on a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), age, or disability in covered health programs or activities.” Weakening these protections could cause serious, negative impacts to consumers with disabilities, particularly in the overall accessibility of healthcare through state marketplaces, like Covered California.

In filing today’s brief, Attorney General Bonta joined the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

A copy of the brief is available here.

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