Supreme Court Nominee’s Rulings On ADA, IDEA Have Advocates Worried
As the U.S. Senate begins confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, concerns are being raised over his judicial record on cases affecting those with disabilities.
Neil Gorsuch, who Trump has tapped to succeed Antonin Scalia on the nation’s high court, will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.
Currently a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, Gorsuch has ruled in several cases touching on the rights of people with disabilities, a judicial record that many advocacy groups say is worrisome.
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“Based on our review of Judge Gorsuch’s record, we have serious reservations about his commitment to adequately and fairly protect the rights of all Americans, including people with disabilities,” reads a letter to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee signed by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Disability Rights Network, the National Council on Independent Living and more than two dozen other advocacy groups.
In a review of Gorsuch’s record, the Bazelon Center found that he “almost always” voted in favor of school districts over those with disabilities in cases brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other statutes.
Ruling in a case known as Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., Gorsuch found that the school district had met its obligation under IDEA to provide a free appropriate public education since the student in question made some progress toward goals, even if the gains were minimal.
The issue of whether IDEA requires “some” progress or “significant” progress is one that courts have differed on and the question is now before the Supreme Court in a separate case with a ruling expected later this year.
Meanwhile, in another case, Gorsuch ruled that the mother of a student with a disability could not pursue remedies under the ADA because she had previously settled an administrative complaint brought under IDEA.
Advocates also cited cases related to employment accommodations, restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities, discrimination claims and other circumstances where they say Gorsuch took a narrow view of civil rights protections.
“Judge Gorsuch has expressed hostility toward private civil rights litigation, calling such lawsuits ‘bad for the country,'” reads the advocates’ correspondence to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “His decisions interpreting federal disability rights statutes, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reflect this enmity as well as his misapprehension of these laws and their policy goals.”
Beyond the disability advocacy groups that signed the recent letter, over 100 civil and human rights organizations sent a separate correspondence last month outlining opposition to Gorsuch’s confirmation on similar grounds.
In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association have also expressed concern about Gorsuch’s record on disability rights issues, particularly in regard to cases involving students with disabilities.
“It is incomprehensible that Judge Gorsuch has gone out of his way to impose extra legal barriers for students with disabilities rather than helping them to overcome obstacles,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the NEA. “In his court decisions, Judge Gorsuch endorsed the lowest of expectations for students with disabilities, which allowed public schools to provide our highest-needs students with the bare minimum educational benefit. We should all be concerned by this troubling trend in Gorsuch’s record.”
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated that Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing will start Monday and take three to four days. He called the nominee a “mainstream judge” who is “well-qualified and respected.”
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