Senate Democrats on Wednesday seized on what, for nominee Neil Gorsuch, was an ill-timed ruling from the Supreme Court – a unanimous decision that ended up tossing a legal standard set by Gorsuch nearly a decade ago.
The ruling came as Gorsuch faced his second day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his nomination to the Supreme Court.
The unanimous Supreme Court decision ruled for a family that had a sued a local school district over special education accommodations for children with disabilities. The court said schools must, under a federal law, meet higher standards to provide individualized programs to students requiring special education.
"When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimus progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. 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,’” Justice John Roberts wrote.
With its decision, the court tossed a standard set by Gorsuch in a 2008 opinion on a separate case, as part of the 10th Circuit bench. That opinion had said a Colorado school didn't have to pay a private school to educate an autistic boy, saying he had been making some progress and that was good enough under the law.
On the sidelines of the hearing, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted: “Today President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, was unanimously rebuked by the Supreme Court.”
He added, “SCOTUS has found that disabled students are entitled to substantially greater protections under fed law than Judge Gorsuch previously ruled.”
In the hearing room, Gorsuch pointed to the case as an example of those where he doesn't like the result, but followed circuit court precedent.
But Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin said he was concerned that Gorsuch had gone further than that precedent.
Gorsuch responded: "If anyone is suggesting that I like the result where an autistic child happens to lose, it's a heartbreaking accusation."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, later defended Gorsuch, saying this was an example of Gorsuch doing “exactly” what he has vowed – following precedent.
Fox News' Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.