In the term ending last June, the court ruled that Congress exceeded its authority when it allowed federal lawsuits against the states under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The law did not address an established record of unconstitutional age discrimination by the states, the court reasoned.
Although sovereign immunity usually doesn't invite widespread public interest, the highly charged Garrett case is different.
"In the earlier [sovereign immunity] cases the court could invalidate statutes without seeming to go against important policies the public supports," said Georgetown University law professor Mark Tushnet. "The practical importance matters more than the signal in this case, precisely because there are a lot of state employees affected."
In lower court action, Garrett and Ash's lawsuits were dismissed in district court. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed the decision, ruling the state was not immune to suits filed under the ADA.
The cases are University of Alabama at Birmingham Board of Trustees vs. Garrett and Ash vs. Alabama Department of Youth Services.