Advocates Protest San Francisco’s Potential Threat to the ADA

January 8, 2015

Honorable Ed Lee
Mayor, City and County of San Francisco
City Hall, 1 Doctor Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 200
San Francisco, CA 94102

Copies to Board of Supervisors:
Supervisor Eric Mar
Supervisor Mark Farrell
Supervisor Katy Tang
Supervisor London Breed
Supervisor Jane Kim
Supervisor Norman Yee
Supervisor Scott Wiener
Supervisor David Campos
Supervisor Malia Cohen
Supervisor John Avalos


Dennis Herrera
City Attorney, City and County of San Francisco
City Hall, 1 Doctor Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 234
San Francisco, CA 94102

Copies to:
Greg Suhr
Chief of Police
850 Bryant Street, Room 525
San Francisco, California 94103

Suzy Loftus
President, Police Commission
850 Bryant Street, Room 505
San Francisco, California 94103

Re: City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan

Dear Mayor Lee and City Attorney Herrera:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations and individuals, representing millions of Americans with disabilities, we urge you to withdraw your appeal in the case of City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. Your appeal to the Supreme Court puts the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—the most comprehensive civil rights law for individuals with disabilities—at risk.

San Francisco has long been recognized for its leadership in disability rights. From Mayor Moscone’s support of the 1977 Section 504 sit–in that led to the implementation of the Rehabilitation Act, to the Department of Public Health’s commitment to persons with HIV, to its ongoing efforts to enhance accessibility in museums and other tourist destinations, San Francisco is viewed in many ways as a model of disability-friendly policies and politics.

The Sheehan case could damage San Francisco’s reputation irreparably. The City Attorney’s petition to the Court asks for an interpretation of the ADA that would leave people with psychiatric disabilities without the ability to require law enforcement to be reasonably responsive to their needs.[1] It also suggests that people with psychiatric disabilities have lesser rights under the ADA, purportedly because their needs cannot be known, despite the fact that police are trained nationwide in proven strategies for safely engaging people with psychiatric disabilities. San Francisco’s position represents a major step backwards.

People with disabilities need the ADA’s protections when they encounter law enforcement. The nation, the state, and the Bay Area’s attention is rightly focused on the need to implement safer police practices. A local review of 51 San Francisco police officer–involved shootings between 2005 and 2013 found that 58 percent of the 19 individuals killed by police had a psychiatric disability. Individuals with many types of disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, diabetes, epilepsy, and deafness, face dangerous and often deadly consequences when law enforcement officials fail to follow federal disability rights laws.

While San Francisco may intend to craft arguments that it believes will limit the damage to individuals’ rights under the ADA, it will have little control over what the Supreme Court does.

Please do not lead the charge to weaken the ADA.

Other elected and appointed state leaders have recognized the need to withdraw a Supreme Court appeal when it endangered the ADA.[2] We urge you to exercise similar leadership.

Representatives from the community are eager to meet with you about this important matter. Please contact Claudia Center, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU at 415–343–0762 or 415–531–2874 to schedule a meeting.

Thank you.

ACLU Foundation

ACLU of Northern California

Jeff Adachi, Public Defender of San Francisco


AIDS Legal Referral Panel

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Diabetes Association

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations

California Foundation for Independent Living Centers

Californians for Disability Rights


Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center

Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, San Francisco

Disability Rights Advocates

Disability Rights California

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Equal Justice Society

General Assistance Advocacy Project

Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD)

Ella Baker Center

Independent Living Resource Center, San Francisco

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Legal Aid Society — Employment Law Center

Mental Health America

Mental Health Association in California

Mental Health Association of San Francisco

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services

National Council for Behavioral Health

National Council on Independent Living

National Disability Rights Network

National Down Syndrome Congress

Mental Health Advocacy Services

Peers Envisioning & Engaging in Recovery Services

People with Disabilities Foundation

Prison Law Office

Public Advocates

Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities

Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld LLP


Transgender Law Center

United Spinal Association

[1] The petition’s interpretation is also contrary to the plain language of the Act. See Pennsylvania v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998) (declining to read exceptions into the ADA’s unambiguous coverage of all programs, services and activities of a public entity).

[2] In 2000, Governor Gray Davis pulled an appeal of a case regarding parking placard fees, stating: “I simply will not be party to any lawsuit that could put the Americans with Disabilities Act in jeopardy.” In 2003, the California Medical Board dropped an appeal at the urging of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Department of Rehabilitation, who argued: “[W]e believe it would be inconsistent for the Medical Board to place California in the position of leading the charge to significantly scale back the advances in national disability public policy in the absence of a reasonable alternative.”

One thought on “Advocates Protest San Francisco’s Potential Threat to the ADA

  1. Perry Champion

    We are asking this because disabilities know no boundaries, age, race, sex, etc.. can become disable. Chances are you know someone with a disability maybe someone in your own family. Please keep this in mind. Also keep in mind by God’s grace you yourself could sustain injury or become sick, or live to become senior with health issues and may need these very laws and protections the ADA has set forth.

Comments are closed.