William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal
Federal Power, States' Rights, Individual Rights: Mentally Disabled Prisoners and the Supreme Court's New Activism
This Note examines the situation of mentally disabled prisoners who seek to assert their rights in federal court. Neither laws affecting the disabled nor laws affecting prisoners receive heightened scrutiny by the judiciary, which, thus far, also refuses to recognize the unique burdens of those who fit both categories. Because mentally disabled prisoners do not qualify for heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, recent developments in the federalism doctrine lead the courts to conclude that they are without jurisdiction to hear suits brought by prisoners against state penitentiaries. This Note explores the underpinnings of federalism, separation of powers, and equal protection jurisprudence, arguing that states do not have the extensive sovereign immunity that the Supreme Court claims, that Congress should be permitted to influence the level of scrutiny afforded to claims brought by the disabled, and that the predicament of mentally disabled prisoners warrants heightened scrutiny.