Why the Supreme Court matters to the autism community

4 Nov

Tuesday (which is today in some places already, tomorrow for others) is Election Day in the United States. One of the key powers of the U.S. President is the ability to nominate judges–including Supreme Court Justices.

Take a look at the biographies of the justices. In particular, take a look at their ages. and who nominated them:

John G. Roberts, Jr.. Born 1955. Nominated by President George W. Bush.

John Paul Stevens. Born 1920. Nominated by President Ford.

Antonin Scalia. Born 1936. Nominated by President Reagan.

Anthony M. Kennedy. Born 1936. Nominated by President Reagan.

David Hackett Souter. Born 1939. Nominated by President George H.W. Bush.

Clarence Thomas. Born 1948. Nominated by President Bush.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Born 1933. Nominated by President Clinton.

Stephen G. Breyer. Born 1938. Nominated by President Clinton.

Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr.. Born 1950. Nominated by President G.W. Bush.

The next President will be in office for 4 years, possibly 8. It is quite reasonable that he will be in a position to nominate a number of Supreme Court Justices.

Note that most of the current Justices were nominated by Republican Presidents. The only two nominated by a Democrat were Justices Ginsburg and Breyer.

If John McCain wins tomorrow, there is a non-zero chance that in 4 or 8 years, no Democrat nominated Justices will sit at the Bench. If Barack Obama wins, there is a reasonable chance that the balance of the Court might shift towards being more Democrat-nominated.

How does this impact the Autism community? Well, if you are like me, you see the struggles of the Autism community (and the disability community in general) as being focused largely on civil rights. Children have the civil right to an appropriate education. Children and adults have the civil right to a lifestyle with dignity, even though they may need more supports to achieve these goals.

I’ll let you search what the candidates have been saying, and doing, on civil rights issues during their careers and this campaign. But, take a look and consider how their views might impact a court you or a family member may be depending on.

That said, we can take a look at the issue of choice. Choice is often a codeword of abortion rights, as the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion, Roe v. Wade, made use of the “right to choice”. It is one of the toughest questions facing America, and one I bring up with great trepidation as I really want to concentrate on the “right to choice” aspect.

The right to choice is not explicit in the U.S. Constitution. Because of this, it is not on the firmest of foundations.

How does this impact the Autism community? Here’s an example: much of the impact of California’s Mental Health Parity Act (AB88, which mandates coverage for certain conditions, including autism) has been reduced by the nature of the right to choice. Christopher Angelo, the attorney who pushed AB88 through the California legislature, noted in a lecture that he fought for greater implementation of AB88, even appealing to the California Supreme Court. The next step was the U.S. Supreme Court, but Mr. Angelo didn’t take his case there. Why? Because his case depended on the “right to choice” and he knew that the court was looking for a test case to define this right more clearly. Given the nature of the court, the likelihood of winning in the Supreme Court was far from assured.

In other words, the changes in the Supreme Court over the next administration could impact insurance coverage for people with autism.

In considering writing this post, it struck me that certain segments of the Autism community might also be impacted if the “right to choice” were to be diminished. Anyone who has looked at how the Supreme Court treated selective vaccination in the past would realize that people in the U.S. have far greater freedom of choice today than in the past.

But, that is a sidetrack. The main question is and will remain: how will future Supreme Courts decide on issues of civil rights for people with disabilities. It is worth considering closely.

3 Responses to “Why the Supreme Court matters to the autism community”

  1. Regan November 4, 2008 at 21:12 #

    Thank you for this post Sullivan! I have nothing intelligent to add, but appreciate you bringing up the significance of our 3rd branch of government.

  2. suzanne November 5, 2008 at 17:51 #

    totally agree and needed to be said

  3. Club 166 November 5, 2008 at 21:55 #

    I would not be so quick to think that any Democratic appointee to the Supreme Court will automatically be good for autistics. Especially if you are concerned at all with the prevention of eugenics by abortion.

    Obama is solidly pro-abortion, including partial birth abortion. Expect that any court appointments to adhere to this line of thought, which will make them much less likely to oppose any type of abortion, even if the purpose of it is to eliminate autistics from the population.


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