On Abbott and empathy

On Sunday, the DMN had this long piece about Greg Abbott’s longstanding hostility to claims made under the Americans with Disabilities Act, even though he himself had benefited from it.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has said he supports the Americans with Disabilities Act, has tenaciously battled to block the courthouse door to disabled Texans who sue the state.

In a series of legal cases in his three terms, Abbott’s office has fought a blind pharmacy professor in Amarillo who wanted reflective tape on the stairs to her office; two deaf defendants in Laredo who asked for a qualified sign language interpreter in their courtroom; and a woman with an amputated leg. In that case, the state argued she was not disabled because she had a prosthetic limb.

Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since a tree fell on him while he was jogging and crushed his spine almost 30 years ago, applauds the 1990 federal law. It has helped provide the ramps, wide doors and access that allow him to give speeches and meet with constituents.

While Abbott, the leading Republican contender for governor, benefits from the ADA mandates that guide businesses, builders and cities, he believes it is unconstitutional to force the state to comply. He has argued that his duty is to protect the state’s autonomy and its taxpayers by using all legal tools available to him — including the argument that the state is immune from disability lawsuits brought under the ADA.

“It’s the attorney general’s duty to zealously represent the interests of the state of Texas, and in these cases that meant raising all applicable legal arguments in litigation where Texas was sued in court,” said Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland.

Abbott’s office has been aggressive on the issue. The state has frequently lost, even before conservative courts such as the Texas Supreme Court. And yet when there has been a trial, it has won several of the cases, with arguments that beat back the charges of discrimination.

Advocates for the disabled say Abbott’s office has worked to deny ADA protections by repeatedly and falsely claiming that impaired Texans don’t have the right to sue the state for discrimination. Abbott declined several requests from The Dallas Morning News to discuss the matter.


Deputy Solicitor General Andy Oldham said there are good reasons why the state tries to block lawsuits from going to court, even when it has a strong case. Good lawyers use all the tools at their disposal, he said.

“If a litigant had two valid reasons — sovereign immunity and the meritlessness of the suit — she would always assert both,” Oldham said. “Suggesting that the lawyer should waive the first argument and use only the second is akin to asking a boxer to fight with one hand tied behind his back.”

While those bringing the lawsuits might believe they are only asking for “a reasonable accommodation,” there is usually disagreement on what that entails, he said.

“It’s wrong to suggest that the state is unwilling to make any accommodation just because it refused to do everything that the plaintiff wanted,” Oldham said.

Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said that advocates’ frustration stems from Abbott’s office consistently seeking immunity for Texas agencies, regardless of the claim.

“When you invoke the sovereign immunity defense, you’re not responding to the merits of the case,” he said. “You’re simply saying the state is immune for its violations of the ADA and therefore there’s not even a point of having a day in court.”

Brian East, senior attorney for Texas Disability Rights, said the repeated efforts to raise sovereign immunity against the disabled cuts off the chance to fix problems.

“I wouldn’t say they were hostile,” East said of the attorney general’s legal team. “They are hostile to the notion that individual citizens might have redress against the state, in general. They are not targeting people with disabilities specifically, but doing what they can to limit the rights of individuals to use the courts in civil rights cases against the state.”

Noah and Perry have offered their takes on this. To me, it’s a combination of a serious lack of empathy – he got what he needed, what does he care about anyone else? – and an elevation of the abstract rights of states over the rights of individuals. Via BOR, I think State Rep. Eliott Naishtat nailed it:

What is perplexing is that the attorney general is not challenging the part of the ADA that bars discrimination by private interests. In other words, Abbott agrees that private entities should continue to be required by law to provide access to individuals with disabilities, but public entities, including state and local governments, should not. Since when are civil rights protections important in relation to the private sector, but not the public sector? Abbott’s response: The office of the attorney general is trying to protect the state’s interests, namely, its limited financial resources. Once again, the issue is state money, or the lack thereof.

And yet, Abbott benefited from the accommodations made by the Supreme Court, which needless to say were paid for with state money. By his own logic and history, if the Supreme Court had not so willingly met his needs, he would have argued that the court was immune from being sued to force them to do the right thing. What’s good for him is not good for anyone else.

That same lack of empathy for anyone who isn’t Greg Abbott has been on the national stage this week with L’Affaire Nugent. Tod Robberson of the DMN captures this with an epic rant.

And when Greg Abbott claims to defend the Constitution, which part does he defend? Is it the part of the Constitution that requires all men and women to be treated equally and without discrimination under the law? Or maybe it’s the part that says a state has sovereign immunity, and if the state behaves in a discriminatory manner toward certain individuals, such as disabled people, that’s OK. Because what’s most important to Greg Abbott isn’t equal treatment and equal access for disabled people. What’s important is Texas’s sovereign immunity. And the gun rights that Ted Nugent stands for.

Wow. This guy’s a real piece of work. Abbott wants to restrict women’s access to abortion. He invites into his campaign a personality who refers to women as fat bitches and dirty whores. He invites into his campaign a man who thinks of sex with underage girls as “beautiful.”

And when challenged on the extremely bad judgment Greg Abbott is exercising, Abbott doesn’t apologize and rethink things. He defends the decision.

Texans who don’t happen to be white have every reason to question a gubernatorial candidate who invites into his campaign someone who makes racist remarks about an African American politician.

Texans with disabilities must not confuse wheelchair-bound Greg Abbott as someone who will defend their rights. He will not.

Texas women must not confuse Greg Abbott as someone who will defend their rights. He will not. Instead, he will campaign with someone who sees no problem denigrating women whenever he feels like it.

I’m not even sure that Greg Abbott will defend family values, if Ted Nugent is the type of person he will defend.

Robberson expanded on his writing on Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN – see the video here. Wayne Slater was there as well and noted that the Abbott campaign was shocked, shocked to hear about some of these things their buddy The Nuge had been saying. Abbott had claimed ignorance of of Nugent’s dark side, which is too ludicrous to be believed. Seriously, if there was no one on his staff who knew and who had the ability to tell him, he’s surrounded himself with amateurs and suckups.

From the beginning, I’ve suggested that Abbott’s greatest weakness in a competitive general election is the fact that he’s never had to engage with non-Republican primary voters. He only knows how to talk to a small, non-representative slice of the electorate. Admittedly, he’s not the only Republican candidate with this problem, but he is the only one among them not in a competitive primary. It seems clear that the two are closely connected. I feel confident we will see more of this after the primaries are over. Burka and the Observer have more.

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One Response to On Abbott and empathy

  1. Richard Morrison says:

    Pull up the ladder

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