Eleventh Amendment

In Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett (2001), the Court continued its trend of reviving the importance of the Eleventh Amendment, and in doing so narrowed the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Patricia Garrett had been director of nursing services, but after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she had to take substantial leave from work to undergo a lumpectomy, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy. When she returned to work, her supervisor told her that she would have to give up her director position, and was then transferred to a lower-paying position as a nurse manager. She filed suit under the (ADA), claiming that the law prohibits employment discrimination by states as well as private sector employers against a qualified individual with a disability on the basis of that disability. The District Court dismissed the suit, claiming that in allowing individuals to sue a state under the ADA, Congress had exceeded its authority and violated the Eleventh Amendment. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, and the state appealed to the high court.

The Supreme Court agreed with the district court, that Congress lacked the authority to contravene the Eleventh Amendment, which bars suits against states in federal courts. Moreover, Congress's authority under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce that Amendment's Equal Protection Clause did not give it the power to circumvent the Eleventh Amendment. In order for Congress to do that, there had to be a pattern of discrimination by the states that clearly violated the Equal Protection Clause, and the remedy imposed by Congress had to be tightly tailored to address that discrimination. The ADA was based on no finding of persistent state discrimination, and the remedy was far too broad.

The dissenters, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, believed that Congress reasonably could have concluded that the remedy provided in the ADA's Title I was an appropriate way to enforce equal protection, and that was all the Constitution required. The opinion was another in a line of cases in which the Rehnquist Court has attempted to revivify the doctrine of federalism and breathe new life into the Eleventh Amendment, such as Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho (1996).


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