On September 18, 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at age 87, after protecting and advancing civil rights in this country for decades. While Justice Ginsburg is often celebrated for her remarkable impact on gender equality and expanded healthcare in the U.S., Undivided would like to take a moment to thank RBG for her role in Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W., a landmark 1999 Supreme Court case where she challenged the segregation and institutionalization of people with disabilities, and upheld their right to be integrated within their community and control where they receive care.

An official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her brown hair is pulled back, she is dressed in a black robe with a white collar, and she is wearing glasses.
An official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her brown hair is pulled back, she is dressed in a black robe with a white collar, and she is wearing glasses.


 What happened during Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W.?

  • In 1999, two women with intellectual disabilities were not granted permission to leave a psychiatric facility in Georgia despite facility doctors stating that they could “live healthy lives in a community-based program."
     
  • Even though the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act included an integration mandate that categorized “the isolation and segregation of individuals with disabilities as a serious and pervasive form of discrimination,” Georgia’s department of human resources wanted to override the recommendations of the women’s doctors and the ADA mandate.
     
  • Justice Ginsburg voted against the state of Georgia, upholding the ADA mandate and securing the rights of people with disabilities to community-based care. RBG wrote the following statement in the SCOTUS decision:

“States are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions 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.”

Here are just a few victories won by people with disabilities in the aftermath of this ruling:

  • Increased access to caregivers so that people can continue to thrive within their communities
     
  • Access to accommodations and modifications within their community, and access to community-based programs through Medicaid waiver programs
     
  • Freedom to control where they receive care
     
  • Releases from institutions after decades of segregation, which led to restored community services (such as housing) that had been previously stripped from them 


Justice Ginsburg advocated for the dignity, independence, respect, healthcare, and well-being of people with disabilities. We are forever grateful for the indelible mark she made on civil rights in this country, and we will remember her as we continue to work for greater visibility, increased access, and true equality for our children and all people with disabilities.

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