The father of a child with autism whom Judge Neil Gorsuch once ruled against urged senators on Thursday to oppose the judge’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.
Jeffrey Perkins, whose son Luke was the subject of a unanimous 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2008, was among several people called before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday for testimony on Gorsuch.
Perkins said Gorsuch’s views had 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 district argued it had complied with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when it refused to reimburse the Perkins family for Luke’s tuition at a private school in Boston. The Perkins family argued that the Boston school had produced “astounding progress” for their son and that remaining in the Thompson School District would have caused him to regress.
In his opinion, Gorsuch said that to comply with IDEA, the district needed only to show it had produced gains for students that were “merely more than de minimis.”
“Judge Gorsuch thought that an education for my son that was even one small step above insignificant was acceptable,” Perkins said on Thursday. “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 after attending the Boston school, Perkins showed the committee a small Lego model of the Capitol building that Luke had built. That drew audible gasps from the audience members in the chamber.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously reversed the circuit court’s decision and sided with the Perkins family in the middle of Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing. Its ruling on the case said 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 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 said.
Gorsuch replied that he was bound by the precedent the 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.”