|Greg Abbott is a Tea Party endorsed Republican nominee for Texas governor. He is in a wheelchair and fights against those who are disabled. He will face Democratic nominee Wendy Davis.|
Somehow, it may be a first for the Republicans. A Republican candidate for governor could be the first disabled Texan to be elected to the office.
Greg Abbot, the state attorney general and Tea Party endorsed candidate will be facing Wendy Davis, the state representative who gained national headlines for a filibuster over a Texas law that restricted abortion in the state.
What you didn't know about the two. Davis is a polarizing woman. She is already under attack by the racist right for her "lies" about being a part of the struggle.
What you didn't know about Abbott is the very fact that despite him being disabled, in his mind, the disabled, the poor, the needy and the unemployed better get their asses back to work. Sure he's a supporter of the American with Disabilities Act. But he believes that those who sue on behalf of ADA are whiny liberal activists who can't use their abilities like he (a privileged Republican).
The Dallas News reports that in a series of legal cases in his three terms, Abbott’s office has fought a blind pharmacy professor in Amarillo who wanted reflective tape on the stairs to her office; two deaf defendants in Laredo who asked for a qualified sign language interpreter in their courtroom; and a woman with an amputated leg. In that case, the state argued she was not disabled because she had a prosthetic limb.
Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since a tree fell on him while he was jogging and crushed his spine almost 30 years ago, applauds the 1990 federal law. It has helped provide the ramps, wide doors and access that allow him to give speeches and meet with constituents.
While Abbott, the leading Republican contender for governor, benefits from the ADA mandates that guide businesses, builders and cities, he believes it is unconstitutional to force the state to comply. He has argued that his duty is to protect the state’s autonomy and its taxpayers by using all legal tools available to him — including the argument that the state is immune from disability lawsuits brought under the ADA.
“It’s the attorney general’s duty to zealously represent the interests of the state of Texas, and in these cases that meant raising all applicable legal arguments in litigation where Texas was sued in court,” said Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland.
Abbott’s office has been aggressive on the issue. The state has frequently lost, even before conservative courts such as the Texas Supreme Court. And yet when there has been a trial, it has won several of the cases, with arguments that beat back the charges of discrimination.
Advocates for the disabled say Abbott’s office has worked to deny ADA protections by repeatedly and falsely claiming that impaired Texans don’t have the right to sue the state for discrimination. Abbott declined several requests from The Dallas Morning News to discuss the matter.
It touches on two key elements of Abbott’s campaign to succeed Gov. Rick Perry. He is touting his record of defending conservative legal principles. But Abbott also is highlighting his disability as evidence of his toughness. In campaign speeches and videos, he notes that he has “literally, a spine of steel” as a result of the accident.
And his likely Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, is already raising questions about his performance as attorney general on issues such as school finance.
In most disability cases, Abbott’s office has claimed sovereign immunity for Texas. Such immunity, granted in the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, says a state can’t be sued without its consent.
It’s an argument that stops a case dead in its tracks and asks the court to toss the suit. If the state wins, the suit is over before a trial can be held to examine the merits of the case.
On ADA claims, federal appellate courts have established exceptions to a state’s claim of immunity. For instance, if a state agency accepts federal funding, it implicitly accepts federal rules and waives its immunity, the courts have said.
Critics say Abbott has shown himself to be obstinate in claiming sovereign immunity on ADA issues, even though federal courts have shot down the argument numerous times in the past nine years.
“The law is the law is the law,” said James Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit group that has fought the state on several sovereign immunity claims in disability cases and won. “And the law is not ambiguous.”
Strickland said sovereign immunity as applied to disability claims is complex, and each case raises distinct legal and fact issues.
He cited a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case, which exhorted courts to look at ADA cases and sovereign immunity “on a claim-by-claim basis.” That is what the state is doing, he said.
In the past, Abbott has suggested, though, that lawsuits are an appropriate way for the disabled to secure accommodations under the ADA.
When Gov. George W. Bush appointed Abbott to the Texas Supreme Court in 1995, the state quickly settled an ADA lawsuit over making the court building accessible to wheelchairs. Ramps and other renovations were made just before Abbott was sworn in.
At the time, Abbott said it was “ironic” that the Supreme Court, “the gatekeeper of the law,” had to be sued to comply.