Harvard Law Review Harvard Law Review Harvard Law Review

Disability Law

Cause Lawyering for People with Disabilities

Reconsidering the next phase of the disability rights movement

Professors Stein, Waterstone, and Wilkins review Samuel Bagenstos’s Law and the Contradictions of the Disability Rights Movement, suggesting that the disability rights movement’s success has been limited by a lack of “cause lawyering.” Many constituencies that have lobbied for civil rights, such as people of color, women, and lesbians and gays, have had significant internal divisions, and the disability rights movement is no exception, as Bagenstos documents. However, say the authors here, these other movements have benefited from lawyers dedicated to the shared goals of the group and attuned to effective, focused litigation. In contrast, the lawyers who have represented people with disabilities before the Supreme Court have had little affinity with the disability rights movement as a whole; instead, these lawyers have focused on the narrow needs of particular constituencies. Thus, the movement has chosen to advance its goals–granted, often with substantial success–through means other than the Supreme Court. However, the professors suggest, conditions have changed and the time may be ripe for the disability rights movement to reengage the Court.