Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Students with Disabilities, Rebukes Gorsuch

March 22, 2017


Earlier today, the United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling on Endrew F. v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist., overturned a Tenth Circuit ruling that permitted a school district to refuse residential educational benefits to a student with autism. The case tested a standard previously put forth by Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in the case Thompson R2-J Sch. Dist. v. Luke P. In that case, Gorsuch ruled that states could satisfy the requirements of the federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by providing students with disabilities a bare-bones standard of education.

The Court was clear in stating what should have been obvious:

When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out. The IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] demands more. (internal citations and quotations removed)

This ruling comes during the continued Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch and raises even more concerns about Gorsuch’s nomination.

AAPD joined with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and 31 other disability rights organizations as well as the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human rights and 115 other civil rights organizations on two separate letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing opposition to the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch (read the Bazelon letter | read the Leadership Conference letter).

From the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law letter:

Judge Gorsuch has expressed hostility toward private civil rights litigation, calling such lawsuits “bad for the country.” 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.

Judge Gorsuch’s record reveals that he has consistently imposed a narrow view of federal civil rights statutes and of the powers of the legislative and executive branches to advance the rights of all people, including people with disabilities. If confirmed, his view will influence Supreme Court decisions affecting the rights of millions of people with disabilities for decades to come.

A National Education Association Report revealed deep concerns about Gorsuch’s record with regard to students with disabilities. Additionally, a review by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law found “a troubling approach to the rights of people with disabilities.”


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