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Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband Delivers Remarks at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Supreme Court Olmstead Decision Protecting the Rights of Americans with Disabilities


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery 

Thank you for the introduction and for the opportunity to participate in today’s celebration.  Today, we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case called Olmstead v. LC.  The Court in that case found that the Americans with Disabilities Act makes unlawful the unjustified institutionalization of people with disabilities.  

Disability rights are civil rights, and it is critically important that individuals with disabilities enjoy the privileges and freedoms available to all Americans.  Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.  Just before he signed the Act into law, President George H.W. Bush explained its importance.

This is what he said:

"Our success with this act proves that we are keeping faith with the spirit of our courageous forefathers who wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

President Bush continued:

"These words have been our guide for more than two centuries as we’ve labored to form our more perfect union.  But tragically, for too many Americans, the blessings of liberty have been limited or even denied. The Civil Rights Act of '64 took a bold step towards righting that wrong. But the stark fact remained that people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination, and this was intolerable. Today’s legislation brings us closer to that day when no Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In the Olmstead case, the Court determined that the Act’s prohibition against discrimination may require placement of persons with disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions.  The Court found that “[s]uch action is in order when the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.” At the Department of Justice, we continue to work day in and day out to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Our Olmstead efforts incorporate issues that are critical to the full participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life, such as living in the community, when appropriate, and the right to competitive, integrated employment.

The Department currently enforces 11 statewide Olmstead settlements.  Last month we announced a comprehensive settlement with the State of West Virginia. In that case, West Virginia agreed to expand effective community-based services for children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders.  Our investigation of West Virginia’s children’s mental health system showed that the State was sending many of its children to segregated residential care, rather than allowing these children, when possible and appropriate, to remain in their communities and live with their families or foster families.

During our investigation, we spoke with families who were unable to obtain community-based care for their children.  For example, one 14-year-old and her mother could not find treatment in the community, so the child spent seven months in a segregated facility in another state.  She was four hours away from her family, and had to sleep on an air mattress on the floor and take cold showers every day.  Another family we met had a 10-year-old who had been institutionalized four times and yet was unable to obtain intensive community-based services to prevent additional hospital stays.  Under our agreement, West Virginia will make available mental health services to children in their homes and communities in the intensity and for the duration of time that they need them. West Virginia will make available mental health services to children in their homes and communities in the intensity and for the duration of time that they need them. West Virginia will also expand mental health services across the State.  The State is also working with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to leverage available Medicaid authorities to help pay for necessary and appropriate home- and community-based services.  The settlement will give all of the affected children the best chance to grow and thrive.

Just over one year ago, the Department also entered a settlement with the State of Louisiana to resolve allegations that the State unnecessarily relied on nursing facilities to treat adults with serious mental illness who were appropriate for and did not oppose receiving community-based supports.  The State is working collaboratively with an independent expert and with the Department of Justice to implement reforms that will better screen and divert people with mental illness from unnecessary placement; use person-centered planning to identify needed supports; improve transition planning from nursing facilities; and expand needed community-based services for people transitioned or diverted from nursing facilities.  The expanded community services include crisis services, intensive case management services, assertive community treatment, integrated day services, housing and tenancy supports, and quality monitoring for all community-based services.

We all know that work can provide so much more than a paycheck: a sense of purpose, dignity, independence, value, self-worth, and belonging.  The Department is working to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to the tangible and intangible benefits of competitive, integrated employment.  The Department’s settlement agreements with  Rhode Island and  the City of Providence Providence offer individuals with disabilities opportunities to receive services designed to prepare them for competitive, integrated employment. To date, 786 individuals have obtained competitive, integrated employment over the course of these agreements. In Oregon, another agreement has produced similar results. According to Oregon’s data, over 5,000 people have received new employment services, and over 600 former sheltered workshop workers have newly obtained competitive, integrated employment.

When we cannot reach an agreed resolution, the Department does not shy from using its litigation authority.  We’ve tried two Olmstead matters in this past year.  Last fall, we challenged Texas’ alleged unnecessary institutionalization of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in nursing facilities.  And we are in ongoing litigation in Mississippi, where we allege that the State’s failure to provide needed community-based services has resulted in the unnecessary segregation of adults with serious mental illness in state hospitals.

As President Bush reminded us when he signed the bill into law, the Americans with Disabilities Act seeks to extend the blessings of liberty to all persons with disabilities in our nation.  The Department of Justice will continue our Americans with Disabilities Act enforcement to ensure that individuals with disabilities can lead their daily lives free from discrimination.

I thank you again for inviting me here to share the Department’s work and the collaborative work of our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services in Olmstead and Americans with Disabilities Act enforcement.  Together, our disability rights work continues to address a vast array of barriers that individuals with disabilities face every day.  We have worked hard as a nation to realize a future where people with disabilities can live and work as integrated members of their chosen communities.  We have made much progress, and more work remains; we look forward to continuing to work alongside all of you in furthering these objectives. Thank you.

Civil Rights
Disability Rights
Updated August 9, 2021