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From his wheelchair in a Georgia prison cell, Tony Goodman has told a tale of agony, sued the state of Georgia for $1.2 million and hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would help him. On Wednesday, the justices largely ignored Goodman’s claims that, for example, he sat for hours in his own waste because prison officials did not help him move from his chair to the toilet. But in hearing Goodman v. Georgia, 04-1236, consolidated with United States v. Georgia, 04-1203, the court engaged in a spirited debate over what would happen if Goodman and others were allowed to sue states for money under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Georgia’s lawyer warned that disabled inmates would file constitutionally valid discrimination cases over minor inconveniences. “Trials on whether they have access to the television room � that’s not a constitutional right,” said Gregory Castanias of Jones Day in Washington. Goodman’s lawyer told justices that the courts would weed out trivial suits, but prisoners’ rights would be better protected if states were forced to pay money for violations. “Here we have very good evidence that we need damages … because constitutional violations have continued and continued,” said Samuel Bagenstos, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “We need some additional remedy to spur the states.” Justice John Paul Stevens noted that the case could affect future ADA cases. “It is not merely the matter of damages that is the issue here, but the entire validity of Title II,” he said. Title II of the ADA, passed in 1990, requires states to make “reasonable accommodation” for persons with disabilities to use public services and programs. Most broadly, Goodman’s suit presents the latest in a series of federalism cases that test the power of Congress to pass laws telling states what to do under section 5 of the 14th Amendment. Former President George H.W. Bush, the ACLU, the NAACP, the American Bar Association and disability rights organizations filed briefs in support of Goodman. Twelve states filed a brief supporting Georgia. Goodman, 41, has used a wheelchair since a 1992 car accident. In 1995, he was convicted in Spalding County of beating his girlfriend. In the case before the Supreme Court, Goodman claims that he was confined in a cell so small that he could not turn his wheelchair. He claims he went 10 months without a shower and years without sleeping in a bed. Georgia officials have offered evidence that Goodman can walk. The facts of the case have not yet been argued before a judge. Goodman filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. A judge granted summary judgment in favor of Georgia. The federal government intervened on Goodman’s side after Georgia argued to the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority when it applied the ADA to prisons. A three-judge panel reversed the lower court and found that Goodman had the right to sue individual prison employees on grounds that his living conditions violated his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. The court also allowed Goodman to sue the state for injunctive relief under the ADA � that is, he could sue to have his conditions improved. Goodman appealed to the high court about whether he could sue Georgia for damages, too. Many of the justices’ questions focused on whether prisoners need the ADA when they have other federal laws that allow them to sue. Georgia’s lawyer, Castanias, said that Goodman could sue for cruel and unusual punishment under federal civil rights law. That drew a retort from Justice Antonin Scalia, who prodded Castanias to concede that civil rights law doesn’t allow Goodman to sue Georgia, only Georgia prison employees. “You can get damages from state officers,” Castanias said. “State officers don’t have any money,” Scalia quipped, drawing laughter from the gallery. Castanias said that if the ADA applies to prisons, then prisoners can claim that even small inconveniences amount to violations of their equal protection rights. Scalia pressed about an ADA case, such as Goodman’s, claiming prison officials violated a prisoner’s rights against cruel and unusual punishment. “Why isn’t that lawsuit perfectly OK?” he asked. For a few seconds Castanias said nothing, then recovered with, “Let me pause and think about that.” Then he suggested that it would be unfair if the ADA gave disabled prisoners greater constitutional rights than other inmates. When it was time for Goodman’s side to argue, Bagenstos and Solicitor General Paul Clement each reminded the court of its findings that states have special obligations to protect prisoners. “States have affirmative constitutional duties, including, in many cases, accommodation of inmates’ disabilities,” Bagenstos said. Justice Anthony Kennedy asked why it wasn’t good enough for Goodman to ask to fix a problem. “Why is it that damages are necessary?” Kennedy asked, pointing out that if Goodman won his suit, the citizens of Georgia would be required to pay his attorney fees. “The deterrent function of damages is really important,” Bagenstos said, adding that making states pay is an effective way to stop violations of prisoners’ rights. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. challenged Bagenstos to explain why Congress has the constitutional authority to allow Goodman to sue Georgia. Bagenstos said Congress deserves leeway to decide how to protect prisoners’ rights. Roberts sounded unconvinced. “I’m wondering if that’s a reasonable reading of the ADA,” he said. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor added similar doubts, saying the ADA could create sizable changes that would burden prison administrators. Scott Simonson is a reporter with a Recorder affiliate based in Atlanta.

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