Neil Gorsuch has repeatedly ruled against students with disabilities and endorsed the lowest of educational standards for them. The U.S. Supreme Court nominee even created his own standard in order to do so, although he won’t acknowledge it’s his own invention.
According to his rulings in cases concerning the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it’s OK for these students to have an education that is “merely more than de minimis”: too trivial or minor to merit consideration.
If I could ask him a question, it would be this: How can you possibly endorse anything less than an education that opens up a full range of possibilities for ALL children?
I imagine that he’d be cool, calm, and collected in his answer, as he was in his Senate hearings last week. He’d respond in lawyerlike fashion with lots of legalese to bolster his position. He’d also probably offer little justification for his record.
Given his judicial opinions about who deserves an expansive education and who does not, I do not believe Neil Gorsuch should be appointed to the Supreme Court.
In his testimony to the Senate, he didn’t explain why he is satisfied with such a low educational bar for students with disabilities. He cites legal precedents, yet he’s disagreed with precedents in other kinds of cases. Consider this: The only time he has written a concurrence or dissent regarding students with disabilities, it has been to narrow their rights under IDEA, or to make it more difficult for them and their parents to assert their rights or prove their case.
I cannot help but think about the impact a justice with Gorsuch’s record could have on millions of students with disabilities and their families across the nation. Teachers, school psychologists and counselors, lunch ladies, school bus drivers, paraeducators—all of us have one mission, and it is to open the world of opportunity to as many students as we possibly can. We want to ensure that all students—whatever their abilities or disabilities—have an education that inspires their natural curiosity and imagination. We want them to have the support and tools they need to flourish and grow. That’s how we set them off on a path to further achievement, whatever form that path might take.
Gorsuch’s legal opinions, on the other hand, seem to say that an education that broadens horizons need not be within the reach of all kids. For some kids, an education that barely scratches the surface of their potential, that takes options off the table rather than providing them, is acceptable. I’m not going to waste time questioning how, exactly, he came to this conclusion. I don’t want to hear him explain the whys and wherefores, or how his interpretation of the law informs his views. I just know his confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court would be very, very wrong for students across our nation.
One of the Gorsuch cases that has gotten a lot of attention has to do with a student with autism named Luke P. It was in Luke’s case that Gorsuch articulated his “merely de minimis” standard. (And by the way, the Supreme Court just last week unanimously debunked that standard.)
In testimony before the Senate, Luke’s father, Jeff, talked about the strides Luke made when he had an education that was appropriate and tailored to his needs, and how painful it was to watch his son’s world shrink when Gorsuch’s opinion denied him that opportunity.
During the Gorsuch hearings, NEA members decried the negative impact his appointment to the court would have. Several came to Washington to urge their senators to vote no on the nominee.
One of them, Cameron Hoxie, from Erie, Colo., tells the story of a high-school senior who came to his school four years ago unable to read or do basic math. When the school team came together, they discovered that the student was “basically blind.” Within three seconds of looking at words or numbers on a page, his eyes lose focus. “So of course, he couldn’t read or do math,” Hoxie says.
Four years later, the student is a senior who takes AP classes and even a college-credit course.
“The most amazing thing about him is that he is nearly completely independent in class,” Hoxie says. “This is a young man that’s going to be in college next year. That one legal concept Gorsuch proposed for this kid’s life would have altered it, and not for the better.
“I cannot imagine going back to a time when we would take children like this and push them to the margins of society,” says Hoxie.
If Gorsuch is appointed to the court, we might not have to imagine that era; unfortunately, we may relive it.
We must make sure our senators get the message and vote no on Neil Gorsuch.