From Integrationism to Equal Protection: tenBroek and the Next 25 Years of Disability Rights

26 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2016 Last revised: 21 Jun 2016

Date Written: June 11, 2016


If there is one person who we can say is most responsible for the legal theory of the disability rights movement, that person is Jacobus tenBroek. Professor tenBroek was an influential scholar of disability law, whose writings in the 1960s laid the groundwork for the disability rights laws we have today. He was also an influential disability rights activist. He was one of the founders and the president for more than two decades of the National Federation of the Blind, one of the first — and for many years undisputedly the most effective — of the organizations made up of people with disabilities that fought for the rights of people with disabilities. Yet in the legal academy at large, Professor tenBroek is best known not for his disability law scholarship but for his other work — notably on poverty law (where he was a key legal architect of the welfare rights movement) and especially on the Fourteenth Amendment.

The purpose of this essay, which was presented as the annual Law Journal Lecture at the University of St. Thomas Law School, is to bring together two of the important bodies of scholarship produced by Professor tenBroek. Professor tenBroek’s disability law work is well known to disability rights activists and scholars, and his work on the Fourteenth Amendment is well known to constitutional scholars. But past scholarship has not brought these two lines of Professor tenBroek’s work together. This essay attempts to do that, and to show how tenBroek’s important scholarship on the antislavery origins of the Fourteenth Amendment can help us to chart an agenda for the next 25 years of disability rights, just as tenBroek’s scholarship on disability integrationism set the agenda for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its first 25 years.

Keywords: Disability, Equal Protection

Suggested Citation

Bagenstos, Samuel R., From Integrationism to Equal Protection: tenBroek and the Next 25 Years of Disability Rights (June 11, 2016). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Forthcoming , U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 508, Available at SSRN:

Samuel R. Bagenstos (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States


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