Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Supreme Court Decision - Part II (Literal Interpretation of the Law ???)

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Forest Grove Sch Dist v. TA 557 U.S. ____, 109 LRP 36046 (6/22/2009). The court ruled by a 6 to 3 margin in favor of the parents. One of my thoughts is who switched sides? Remember the same issue (whether a provision in the law limited reimbursement to only those parents whose children had received special ed in a public school) was before the court in the Tom F. case, and the high court deadlocked 4 to 4, with Justice Kennedy recusing himself. Based on the fact of the 4 to 4 vote, most observers thought that Kennedy would join one side and the decision would be 5 to 4. So who jumped ship?

I had observed the oral arguments in Tom F. and I felt that justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas and CJ Roberts formed one group. The other four, I surmised were Bryer, Ginsburg, Stevens and Souter. If that was right, then three justices changed their positions, Souter, Alito and CJ Roberts. Even if I am wrong (and the per curiam decision did not reveal who the two groups of four were), at least one of these justices changed sides since Tom F. Who do you think it was?

This raises serious doubts about the theory of static or literal interpretation of the law by judges. If three of the eight flipped in the matter of a few months, it would appear that judges really do make law, not just interpret it. Most fair observers of the court would say that ideology guides the decisions of a justice more than any "literal interpretation" theory. Sure that is what they all say in the confirmation process, but does anybody really believe that ideology does not affect court rulings? Fortunately special education is not a liberal or a conservative issue. In this field, the lines blur. I believe that special education has widespread support across the political spectrum, and I hope that remains true.

Now for some additional resources: Here is a news article discussing the case. Here is the take of the SCOTUS blog. Here is an article by a mental health law center encouraging a greater focus upon the least restrictive environment considerations concerning the appropriateness of the parent's private placement.

More on this important decision in the next post in this series.


  1. I'm not an attorney so please bear with me here. From my understanding, this case seemed different than the Tom F case. In this case, the school kept denying special education services right from the beginning. The parents were willing to work with the school and possibly accept services from them, but the school would not classify the child. Therefore, the parents had no choice but to place him where he would receive services. I guess they could have filed DP to get him classified and an appropriate program, but this child was older and as a parent, time isn't on your side. In the Tom F, didn't the parents just place the child in a private school even though district wanted to implement an appropriate program? It just seems different to me. The basis here for whether or not the district provided fape is irrelevant because they didn't even classify the child. Did I misunderstand this? Reading the law is well, not so easy.

  2. Your article and blog are both very useful for the readers.
    The collection of rules imposed by authority is called Law.
    Supreme Court is the highest federal authority.