With Judge John Roberts an ever-looming addition to the Supreme Court, will HIVer discrimination protections and disability rights—granted by the American Disabilities Act (ADA)—be adjourned? In 2000, Roberts argued in Toyota v. Williams to limit the definition of—and access to—disability. Bill Hirsh of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel says this “could limit HIVers’ ability to find gainful employment or redress for wrongs.”
What’s more, in a 1981 memo to the attorney general, Roberts also derided the constitutionality of the right to privacy as “so-called.” Says Kate Kendell, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, “This view could harm HIVers in everything from confidential medical treatment to prevention.”
At press time, Roberts had been nominated to replace late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Roberts joins the court as moderate Sandra Day O’Connor, who was mixed on the ADA, retires. In 2004, she was the swing vote in winning disabled folks the right to sue unaccommodating states, but in 1998, she was in the minority when the court deemed HIVers disabled.
As for Roberts? “We know that he’s brilliant, well-liked and concerned with getting the interpretation of the law right,” says Eva Patterson, a founder of HIVer-friendly Equal Justice Society. One barometer will be Goodman v. Georgia, an upcoming ADA case that could take away incarcerated disabled people’s right to sue their state for discrimination. Roberts would not respond to POZ’s requests for comment. Reservations confirmed.