Less than an hour into his hearing, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Gorsuch was wrong on a major disability decision he had written in a 2008 case. While it may not flip his chances at the nomination, critics have been quick to point at Gorsuch's ruling as a means to prop up their case against him.
The controversial opinion and Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling centered around the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Act requires that certain, federally funded school systems provide a "free appropriate public education" to certain students with disabilities. IDEA requires that these students have their "unique needs" met through a "specially designed" individualized education program.
While this seems to be a pretty clear-cut premise, Gorsuch apparently thought otherwise. In his 2008 opinion of the case, which involved the parents of an autistic child suing a specialized school for tuition reimbursement, Gorsuch offered little wiggle room in his interpretation of IDEA. Instead of acknowledging the unique needs of each child, Gorsuch said that school districts could comply with the law as long as they provided educational benefits that "must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’”
“De minimis” means “so minor as to merit disregard” in Latin, so in layman's terms, Gorsuch's decision essentially concluded that schools needed to merely provide a little more than nothing to meet the appropriate educational standard for students with disabilities.
Though Gorsuch argued during Wednesday's hearing that he was "bound by circuit precedent" in that particular case, critics have argued that wasn't true.
Chief Justice John Roberts likewise said that Gorsuch's decision would have essentially stripped students' of their right to a quality public education:
Rather, the Supreme Court said, students with disabilities should be measured on their ability to pass their courses and advance from grade to grade.
Contrary to Gorsuch's views, the Court concluded that "access to an ‘education’ is what the IDEA promises."