Robert L. Burgdorf Jr.
Professor of Law Emeritus
A.B., University of Notre Dame, 1970; J.D., University of Notre Dame School of Law, 1973.
Upon joining the faculty in 1989, Professor Burgdorf initiated the School of Law's constitutional law courses, which he taught for the next ten years. In 1991, he co-founded, with the late David A. Clarke, the School of Law's Legislation Clinic, which he directed until 2014, when he was granted Professor Emeritus status. He has periodically taught a seminar course on the Civil Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Professor Burgdorf has written extensively on the rights of persons with disabilities, and was the principal author and general editor of the first law school casebook on the subject. He co-authored the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' first major report on discrimination against people with disabilities, Accommodating the Spectrum of Individual Abilities.
He was the principal staff author of Toward Independence, the National Council on the Handicapped's 1986 report to the President and Congress, and wrote the original version of the Americans with Disabilities Act that was introduced in the 100th Congress; the bill was reintroduced with revisions in 1989, and was ultimately signed into law in its final version in 1990. The United States Supreme Court has recognized Professor Burgdorf as "the drafter of the original ADA bill introduced in Congress in 1988," and has relied on Professor Burgdorf's article, The Americans with Disabilities Act: Analysis and Implications of a Second-Generation Civil Rights Statute, 26 Harv. Civ. Rights Civ. Lib. L. Rev 413 (1991), as authoritative commentary on the origins of the ADA. Sutton v. United Airlines, 527 U.S. 471, 484-85 (1999).
He is the author of a comprehensive legal treatise on the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace, Disability Discrimination in Employment Law, published by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) in 1995. At various times earlier in his career, Professor Burgdorf worked at the University of Maryland School of Law, the National Center for Law and the Handicapped, the General Counsel's Office of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the National Easter Seal Society. He represented the National Council on Disability as amicus curiae before the United States Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. and Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett in 1999 and 2000, and congressional sponsors of the Americans with Disabilities Act in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin in 2001. He served as general editor and principal contributing legal analyst for the report of the National Council on Disability on federal enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Promises to Keep: A Decade of Federal Enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act published in 2000. His summary of the holdings and the implications of the Supreme Court's decisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act has been published on the website of the National Council on Disability.
In 2002 and 2003, Professor Burgdorf wrote a series of policy analysis papers discussing the implications of problematic decisions of the Supreme Court on the ADA; those papers are published on the NCD website. Subsequently, he wrote the Council's report Righting the ADA (2004) which catalogues ways in which the Supreme Court has misinterpreted the ADA and presents an ADA Restoration Act bill for putting the ADA back on the right track. This proposal provided the basis for ADA Restoration Act bills introduced in the 109th and 110th Congresses.
He has also been active in the international disability rights realm. He represented the National Council on Disability as a part of the U.S. Delegation to the Working Group on Persons with Disabilities in the American Hemisphere of the Organization of American States Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs that drafted the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities. He has consulted with delegations and organizations from Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, and South Africa about the drafting and interpretation of laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. His article The Americans with Disabilities Act in an International Context was published in the Fall 1998 issue of the Civil Rights Journal of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In 2003 and 2004, he has participated in the EU Group of Legal Experts on Combating Discrimination on Grounds of Disability, which advises the European Commission on disability discrimination issues, and has delivered substantive papers to the Group on particular legal issues. In December 2003, the significance of Professor Burgdorf's pioneering work to establish legal rights for people with disabilities was acknowledged in the United Nations during ceremonies in observance of the United Nations Day of Disabled Persons.
Professor Burgdorf served as a member of the American Bar Association's Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law from 2002 to 2006. He received a commendation from the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities in1988, was given a Just Do It! award by the Commissioner of the federal Administration on Developmental Disabilities in 1991, awarded a Mary E. Switzer Rehabilitation Research Distinguished Fellowship in 2000, and presented a National Leadership Award by the National Council on Disability in 2006. In 2011, he received the da Vinci Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
In honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26th, 2015, Professor Burgdorf wrote A Dozen Things to Know about the ADA on its 25th Anniversary, which you can read by clicking HERE.
For a complete list of Professor Burgdorf's publications, click HERE.