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Applying a ‘Disability Lens’ to the SCOTUS Docket

August 28, 2023

Profs. Jasmine Harris and Karen M. Tani L’07, PhD’11 discuss their article, “Disability on the Docket” with the Center for Public Integrity.

The Center for Public Integrity recently spoke with University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Professor of Law Jasmine Harris and Seaman Family University Professor Karen M. Tani L’07, PhD’11 about their pathbreaking paper, “The Disability Docket,” which applies a “disability lens” to the Supreme Court’s 2021 and 2022 Terms, making the case that more legal areas would benefit from this perspective.

Harris and Tani co-authored the paper with Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & General Counsel of The Arc of the United States, and it was published in the American University Law Review.

“The paper urges the public to recognize how vulnerable this population nonetheless remains,” writes The Center for Public Integrity, “as well as how tightly their interests are tethered to other marginalized groups that hope to protect and enhance their civil rights in the Roberts Court era.”

From The Center for Public Integrity:

Q: Why was it important to undergo this study of how decisions made by this Supreme Court would impact people with disabilities in particular?

Harris: Disability is an often forgotten piece of the court’s docket and often neglected in terms of how it operates, and that’s reflective of how disability is in society as well. We have differential treatments for people with disabilities, and sometimes that’s warranted, and at other times it’s not. … At all corners of both society and law, you have this sense that disability is different and ought to be treated differently.

Tani: Disability cases do really important work for the law. Their reach is broader than disability. But my sense is – and I think the sense of other people – is that those decisions tend to get kind of under-appreciated or not recognized at the time. And so the actual significance, the legal significance of those decisions has gone under appreciated.

I think part of the impetus for wanting to do this kind of Supreme Court roundup with the disability throughline was just to say, historically, there’s a pattern here of these cases actually being in some sense much more significant and far reaching, but because they’re labeled like a disability case, they’re not kind of as hot button. They’re not as sexy. They’re considered sort of in that silo. And so the idea, I think was to kind of like, carry that insight forward and see how cases more recent cases might fit that pattern.

Harris: Look, more than 61 million adults in the United States – that’s just adults – have one or more disabilities. And that’s before COVID. We haven’t had the post-COVID numbers with long haulers included in there. Disability is more pervasive than we think, and so if we see disability as touching many more things, places and people than it already does then applying a disability lens becomes even more important… .

Read the full interview at The Center for Public Integrity.