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Gorsuch is bad news for the disabled

Updated: 
March 29, 2017 - 12:05am

If Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, is confirmed by the Senate, it will be a huge setback for Americans with disabilities.

Throughout his judicial career, Gorsuch has exhibited a deep disregard for the rights and well-being of such citizens. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law analyzed Gorsuch’s voting record and concluded that he has a “consistently narrow view” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other disability rights laws.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA and passed in 1975, guarantees people with disabilities a free and appropriate public education. But the National Education Association says there is an “overwhelming body of cases demonstrating (Gorsuch’s) hostility” toward families pursuing IDEA claims.

In one such case that came before Gorsuch in 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the family of a child with autism sought reimbursement from a local school district for the cost of enrolling the boy in a private school after, they claimed, the school district failed to appropriately serve him.

In the district where the family previously lived, school personnel had worked to help the boy develop socially as well as academically. But in the new district, they said, the level of services was lower, and he regressed socially to the point where they withdrew him from public school. A hearing officer, an administrative law judge and a U.S. District Court all sided with the family, but Gorsuch wrote a decision overturning them all and absolving the school district.

The Bazelon analysis cites several Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, cases in which Gorsuch ruled against disabled plaintiffs, especially in the area of employment discrimination.

In one case, an employee of the University of Oklahoma alleged that when she developed a degenerative spinal disc condition, the university fired her rather than provide reasonable accommodations that would have enabled her to keep working. She filed suit under Title II of the ADA, which states that qualified people with disabilities cannot be “excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” But Gorsuch wrote an opinion stating that since employment discrimination by public entities is not explicitly prohibited, Title II does not apply.

The fact is that Congress found it necessary to enact laws like IDEA and the ADA. Because Gorsuch can’t ignore these laws, he seems determined to render them as ineffective as possible by doing judicial contortions to apply them as narrowly as possible.

The Senate should reject his nomination.

Mike Ervin, a writer and disability rights activist in Chicago, writes the blog Smart Ass Cripple at smartasscripple.blogspot.com. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 30 W. Mifflin St., suite 703, Madison, WI, 53703; email: pm@projprogressive.org.

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