Washington State withdraws from Olmstead Amicus Brief

In a letter dated March 9, 1999, and directed to George Walker, Chair of the Developmental Disabilities Council, the Attorney General said in part,

"After careful consideration, we have decided to withdraw our state from the amicus brief. This has been a difficult decision as we have struggled to determine how to best fulfill our responsibility to protect the legal interests of the state and its citizens. What we have come to understand is the great symbolic importance many persons with disabilities place on this case. Our signature on this amicus was not intended to convey a message that the state is changing its direction toward providing broader choices and eliminating barriers for persons with disabilities. To the contrary, over the past few years the state has moved toward increased opportunities for community-based services for the disabled while seeking to preserve the option of quality residential care.

"The Governor and I have each affirmed our strong support for better services and choices for persons with disabilities.  We do not want our signature on this amicus brief to call that commitment into doubt and create unnecessary fear and anxiety."

Over the last several weeks there have been meetings with Governor Locke, Attorney General Christine Gregoire, and others to express concern and anxiety about the original decision to sign onto the amicus brief. Advocates have written letters, sent emails and called with their concerns.

State Pulls Out of Suit Challenging Disability Law
by Dionne Searcey Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA - Bowing to pressure from the disabled community, state Attorney General Christine Gregoire has withdrawn Washington's support for a lawsuit, now before the U.S. Supreme Court, that advocates for the disabled fear might undermine the federal law intended to protect them from discrimination.

Gregoire sent a letter to advocates yesterday announcing the reversal. Gov. Gary Locke also supports the shift.

Gregoire's office last month filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the state of Georgia's challenge to the Americans With Disabilities Act. Georgia contends the act usurps a state's authority to decide how to distribute already limited resources to pay for the needs of disabled people.

"Our signature on this (brief) was not intended to convey a message that the state is changing its direction toward providing broader choices and eliminating barriers for persons with disabilities," Gregoire said in the letter.

Disabled community members and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union barraged state offices with letters and phone calls, and then met with Gregoire and Locke to encourage the reversal.

"We came to understand the symbolic importance many disabled people have on this case," said Narda Pierce, solicitor general for Gregoire's office.

Pierce had authorized the friend-of-the-court brief and worked closely with the state's Department of Social and Health Services in determining that Washington should lend its support.

The state supported only a section of Georgia's case that challenges federal regulations the state considers unfunded federal mandates. Pierce had said her concern was that federal regulations are "taking the policy choices away from state legislators on how to serve the disabled community as a whole."

Advocates for the disabled said they were excited about the state's reversal.

"I understand the legal reasons for the brief," said state Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, who uses crutches and lobbied heavily for the state to remove its name from the brief. "But when it comes to civil rights of any group of people, I think that's where there are more important reasons to consider."

Copyright 1998 The Seattle Times Company Local News : Wednesday, March 10, 1999

[Thanks to ADAPT]

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