Hold Gorsuch accountable on disability rights
© Greg Nash

Today the Senate Judiciary committee will be reviewing President Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As part of the committee’s consideration of Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, we should all be calling attention to a number of critical issues related to his past record of judicial rulings and important cases on the horizon for the Supreme Court.

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As a retired civil rights attorney who served two terms as a member of President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez's engagement win Obama's endorsement Pence lobbies anti-Trump donors to support reelection: report The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump attacks on McCain rattle GOP senators MORE’s National Council on Disability and was one of three Senior Disability Policy advisors for the Hillary for America campaign, I am keenly aware of the policy challenges surrounding people with disabilities and the ongoing struggle to achieve a more inclusive society. In 1982, I was progressively blinded by retinal degenerative disease, which initiated my life’s work as a disability rights advocate.  

As the committee considers Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, all of us should work to ensure the committee understands what’s at stake for the disability community. I ask, on behalf of the 59 million Americans with disabilities, one in every two families, one in four women, that Judge Gorsuch be queried about his opinions on the critical issues related to the rights of people with disabilities and specifically questioned on previous decisions he has made affecting this community.

In 2008, Judge Gorsuch wrote an opinion that overturned Thompson School District v. Luke, a case in which an autistic boy sought funding to be placed in a residential school program that would better serve his development. Judge Gorsuch ruled that because Luke was viewed to have made “some progress” in his education within public school, that environment was sufficient under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

However, Judge Gorsuch’s decision didn’t take into account Luke was making no progress in applying skills learned in class to other parts of his life. Isn’t the application of skills — for work, personal interactions, and general living — beyond the classroom what education is all about?

The problem is some progress or some support doesn’t meet the underlying foundation behind disability rights laws, which is to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to live, work and be a part of an inclusive society. This very issue recently reached the Supreme Court with Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, and the outcome will affect education rights for millions of children with disabilities.

Supporting Americans with disabilities, and full inclusion so that everyone may exercise their power and reach their full potential, benefits us all. We are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Some of us voted for President Trump and some of us voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic Socialists of America endorses Sanders for president How to end the Electoral College and elect our next president by popular vote CNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary MORE. We are from rural America and the inner city.

There has never been more at stake for our community as there is at this moment. Getting to the bottom of Judge Gorsuch’s opinions on these issues is something all Americans should care about and it must be considered in the committee’s decision-making process about whether to recommend approval of his nomination before the full Senate.

I hope you will join me in reaching out to members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to express my concerns and encourage them to thoroughly question Judge Gorsuch on his views related to disability rights laws. 

Janni Lehrer-Stein, served two terms on the National Council on Disability (May 2011 – Dec. 2016) and was a Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Hillary for America. She was progressively blinded by retinal degenerative disease in 1982 and has been a disability rights advocate for more than 30 years.


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