Hatch questions Gorsuch about religious freedom in Supreme Court confirmation hearing

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch Sipa USA via AP

In a landmark, unanimous 8-0 ruling, the US Supreme Court set forth expectations that public "school districts must provide students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, "appropriately ambitious" progress", reported NPR. The ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District states it is not enough for schools to offer minimal instruction for students with special needs. "Indeed, in this case, the Douglas County School District offered an appropriate Individualized Education Plan and we look forward to proving to the lower courts that the IEP meets the new, higher standard". Today's opinion held that "appropriate" goes further than what the lower courts had held.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in their favor this week.

"If I was wrong, senator, I was wrong because I was bound by circuit precedent, and I'm sorry", he said.

While lower courts have sided with school systems and deemed "appropriate" to mean even minor advances from the previous school year, the Supreme Court will ensure that those standards are set much higher. The three circuit judges wrote that they were holding up precedent and pointed to the appeals court's 2008 decision on Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P. - which was written by Gorsuch.

"And it makes me question your judgment".

"The IDEA demands more", the chief justice said.

"Is it fair to say that the court's decision in Hobby Lobby and your concurring opinion upheld this objective and, in doing so, actually defended the unpopular and promoted religious tolerance?" asked Hatch, who wrote the 1993 religious freedom restoration law.

That statute conditions federal funds to school districts on their compliance with specific minimum standards for accommodating disabled students - or, if they are unable to do so, on their reimbursement of the expense of sending a disabled student to an appropriate private school.




Senator Blumenthal questions Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch Wednesday.

Both Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Dick Durbin quizzed Gorsuch on his opinion, with Klobuchar pointing out a couple of times that the Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision. It is not the case, in other words, that Judge Gorsuch happened to be a government lawyer at a time when the government-his client-endorsed torture and a sweeping view of presidential power.

"It's a powerful decision", Durbin told Gorsuch, who was handed the ruling on his way to bathroom.

The 10th Circuit ruled in 2015 against Endrew, finding that he had made enough progress under his education plan to satisfy the "merely more than de minimis" standard.

"And, as I described in that piece on Monday, Gorsuch, as reflected in his decision in Hobby Lobby, seems primed to allow for those religious exemptions". Gorsuch was not part of the panel that decided that case.

"If anyone is suggesting that I like a result where an autistic child has to lose, that's a heartbreaking accusation to me", Gorsuch said. Like the child in the 2008 case, Endrew had been diagnosed with autism.

Nonetheless, disability advocates hailed the ruling as a victory.

Gorsuch said he finds it "wonderfully reaffirming" that there's a body like the Supreme Court that resolves situations like these in which federal courts disagree.

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