Legal Advocacy

We advocate in the federal courts and state supreme courts for proper interpretation of laws that impact people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We primarily serve as ‘friends of the court” (amicus curiae). We file briefs in cases which significantly involve and/or affect persons with developmental disabilities, such as death row cases and cases involving the interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Olmstead Supreme Court decision regarding the states’ community integration mandate.

Recent Cases

  • State v. John Floyd – This is a case before the Supreme Court of Louisiana regarding a man with intellectual disability who has been imprisoned for 29 years under a sentence of life without parole. There is significant evidence that he was not guilty of the crime and that he confessed under duress to a police officer who, under other circumstances, was found by the Louisiana Supreme Court to have beaten another suspect into confessing to a different crime.

  • Walker v. Kelly – This was a petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court in a death penalty case in Virginia where the petitioner Darick Walker had intellectual disability. The Arc’s brief discussed the importance of considering and following accepted clinical norms in diagnosing mental retardation (term used by the Supreme Court in prohibiting the death penalty); otherwise there was a great risk of unconstitutional execution of an individual with intellectual disability in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Sadly, the Supreme Court denied Walker’s petition for review of his case on the same day that the Court accepted The Arc’s brief in support of his petition for review. He was executed that day.

  • Challenges to Health Reform Law -- These cases challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (health care reform) were filed in Virginia and Florida. In Florida v. United States, the federal district court judge refused to allow the amicus briefs. In Virginia v. Sebelius, The Arc participated in an amicus brief which argues that the minimum coverage provision (requirement for individual insurance coverage), challenged by Virginia, is a necessary and proper means to ensure that the prohibition on the exclusion of people with preexisting conditions from insurance plans achieves its intended result. It further argues that where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, it possesses the power needed to make that regulation effective.

  • Ortiz v. U.S. – This is a death penalty case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and it involves the definition of mental retardation (this term is used since the U.S. Supreme Court used the term in its Atkins decision prohibiting the execution of people with the condition). The case arose in Missouri. The District Court opinion misunderstood the nature of the definition of mental retardation, and the amicus brief addressed the key features of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities definition and its applicability to Mr. Ortiz's case.

  • Aaron Hart v. Texas – This case is an appeal from a sentence of 100 years in prison for Aaron Hart, an 18-year old man with intellectual disability, for sexual activity with a minor. The case is going to the intermediate level of appeal in the Texas court system.