Staff Columnist

Civil rights stances make Kavanaugh unfit for high court

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, accompanied by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, center right, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 4, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS)
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, accompanied by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, center right, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 4, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS)

Lost in the ongoing conversation about abortion and executive branch power that surrounds U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are the civil rights rulings that should keep him off the bench.

Senate hearings are underway for President Donald Trump’s second pick to the Supreme Court, and little ink has been spared by advocacy groups on either side of the nomination. It’s been a lot of noise, paid for by a lot of high-profile donations, and we should worry the onslaught has drowned out the real danger of placing Kavanaugh on the bench of our highest court: his dismal record on civil rights, especially for people with disabilities.

Disability rights groups recently have begun to push back, an almost unheard of move by advocates who historically have relied on strong bipartisan commitments to their causes — necessary to build effective and equitable federal policies.

The American Association of Persons with Disabilities released a statement saying, among other things, that Kavanaugh’s rulings “have devalued the lives and liberty of people with disabilities.”

The National Council on Independent Living, The Arc, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and state-based Disability Rights and Education Fund took similar positions. Iowa-based groups were among more than 100 disability advocacy organizations who penned a letter in opposition to Kavanaugh.

The distrust of Kavanaugh’s judgment on these issues is broad. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has offered analysis of many decisions as they pertain to disability rights and access to health care, employment opportunities, equity in education, and the ability of federal agencies to implement the laws they are charged to uphold.

One 2007 appellate case that has stood out, for good reason, is Doe Tarlow v. District of Columbia, in which Kavanaugh was one of three circuit court judges. Kavanaugh’s decision in that case sits in contrast to the long-standing principle of self-determination, or that people with disabilities have authority and control over their own lives.

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Plaintiffs were subjected to elective surgeries (including unwanted abortion) based on the consent of Washington, D.C., officials. Kavanaugh set aside self-determination, saying plaintiffs could not express a choice or preference regarding treatment because of their intellectual disability. Kavanaugh went as far as to say that officials were not required to have conversations with the plaintiffs regarding their medical care, wholly dismissing the idea that an individual with an intellectual disability could express a choice or preference in relation to care.

Kavanaugh said due process was not at issue because “plaintiffs have not shown that consideration of the wishes of a never-competent patient is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’ ” Perhaps Kavanaugh was referring to the shameful periods of coerced sterilization or human experimentation.

And that is merely one example. Throughout his legal career, Kavanaugh has set aside protections for vulnerable Americans, making him unfit to serve.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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