The father of an autistic student whom Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ruled against urged senators on Thursday to oppose the judge’s nomination.
Jeffrey Perkins, whose son Luke was the subject of a unanimous 10th Circuit court decision in 2008, was among several individuals called before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday to testify for or against Gorsuch.
Perkins said Gorsuch’s views “threatened” Luke’s access to an appropriate education and “a meaningful and dignified life,” when the judge sided with Colorado’s Thompson school district over the family in the case.
The Supreme Court unanimously overruled Gorsuch’s decision and sided with the Perkins family on Wednesday in the middle of the confirmation hearing.
The district argued it had complied with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when it refused to reimburse the Perkins family for Luke’s tuition at a private school in Boston. The Perkins family had argued that the Boston school produced “astounding progress” for his son, whereas remaining in the Thompson district would have caused him to regress.
But in his opinion, Gorsuch ruled that the district only needed to show it had produced gains for students that were “merely more than de minimis” in order to comply with IDEA.
“Judge Gorsuch felt that an education for my son that was even one small step above insignificant was acceptable,” Perkins said.
“On behalf of all children, disabled, typical, and gifted, I urge you to deny confirmation to Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
To demonstrate the progress Luke had made following the education he received in Boston, Perkins showed the committee a small Lego model of the Capitol building that Luke had built, which drew audible gasps from the audience in the chamber.
The Supreme Court ruled on the case on Wednesday in the middle of Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, unanimously overruling Gorsuch’s 2008 decision and siding with the Perkins family.
The justices’ ruling declared that the “more than de minimis” threshold for educating students with disabilities was inadequate.
“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,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion.
“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.”
Gorsuch, who learned of the ruling while he was on a five-minute bathroom break, was instantly put on the hot seat by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.
“Why, why in your early decision, did you want to lower the bar so low to merely more than de minimis as a standard for public education to meet this federal requirement under the law?” Durbin asked.
Gorsuch replied that he was bound by the precedent the 10th Circuit court had set more than a decade earlier.
“If anyone is suggesting that I like a result where an autistic child happens to lose — that’s a heartbreaking accusation to me,” Gorsuch said.
“If I was wrong, Senator, I was wrong because I was bound by circuit precedent. And I’m sorry.”
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