Speaking out for People with
 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Olmstead Decision -- VOR Press Release

VOR Applauds
U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Favor of Choice
Wednesday, June 23, 1999

Quoting VOR's Amicus Curiae brief, the Supreme Court yesterday in Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. held that "Each disabled person is entitled to treatment in the most integrated setting possible for that person--recognizing that, on a case-by-case basis, that setting may be an institution."

In the 6-3 ruling, the Justices ruled that unjustified institutionalization is discrimination, bust also emphasized that "nothing in the ADA or its implementing regulations condones termination of institutional settings for persons unable to handle or benefit from community settings." The decision is a victory for VOR and other organizations that support choice in residential settings, and discourages advocates in support of total deinstitutionalization.

Plaintiffs in Olmstead were two mentally disabled adults who once needed institutional care. They progressed to the point where community care was feasible, and strongly desired by each of them. In handing down its decision in support of the plaintiffs' request to receive community-based care, the Court emphasized that a State must be granted the flexibility to meet its obligations to maintain a range of facilities for the care and treatment of persons with diverse mental disabilities. A State may, the Court ruled, assert a fundamental-alteration defense that would consider the resources available to the state to provide community-based care to the litigants, as well as its obligation to serve others under its care.

The decision by the Supreme Court sets forth three conditions which must be met prior to transferring an individual from an institution to a community-based setting: (1) the State's treatment professionals determine that such placement is appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose the transfer; and (3) the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities. Family involvement remains critical in placement decisions under the first two elements.

Relying on VOR's brief, the Court cautioned that no one should read the ADA to compel States "to phase out institutions, placing patients in need of close care at risk," while also recognizing community-based care is more appropriate for many people with mental retardation and other disabilities.

The Supreme Court's decision signals a victory for all people with mental retardation and their families. Lawmakers are now directed to honor choice.