RELEASE: In Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer Oral Argument, Court Grapples with Civil Rights Testing in the Internet Age and Whether It Should Even Decide the Case at All
WASHINGTON, DC – Following oral argument at the Supreme Court today in Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer, a case in which the Court is considering whether an individual with disabilities has standing to challenge the failure of a place of public accommodation to provide accessibility information on its website even if she lacks any plans to visit that place of public accommodation, Constitutional Accountability Center Appellate Counsel Miriam Becker-Cohen issued the following reaction:
The Court today was primarily focused on whether it should decide this case at all. Ms. Laufer has dismissed the underlying lawsuit, the hotel is no longer owned by the defendant, and the hotel’s website has since been brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When the Court did grapple with the standing issue in the question presented, the Justices seemed to struggle with where to draw a line for tester plaintiffs in the context of the internet. In questioning the attorney for the hotel, Justice Sotomayor asked the right questions, pondering whether there is a meaningful distinction between Ms. Laufer’s actions—visiting a hotel website and encountering discrimination despite never intending to stay at the hotel—and the civil rights activists in the 1960s who visited lunch counters to see whether they would be served, even though they had no interest in eating the restaurant’s food. In fact, as our brief described, the sort of discrimination and dignitary harm that Ms. Laufer suffered has even deeper roots as a cognizable injury: in early American common law, people who suffered the same sort of injury in the face of discrimination by inns and common carriers routinely filed lawsuits premised on that harm.
Fortunately, none of the Justices seemed inclined to overrule an important precedent establishing tester standing, Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman. Thus, if the Court does reach the standing issue in this case, it seems likely that any ruling will be relatively narrow.
Case page in Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer: https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/acheson-hotels-llc-v-laufer/
Constitutional Accountability Center is a nonpartisan think tank and public interest law firm dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text, history, and values. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.