03/18/2017

PSRP speaks out against Supreme Court nominee

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Special educator Irene Booze believes with every fiber of her being that it is our duty to help the less fortunate. That's why she became a special education paraprofessional, that's why she works at a middle school for children with autism, and that's why, for many years, she was a nurse at a state psychiatric hospital.

And it's also why this longtime member of the Baltimore Teachers Union was incensed when she learned that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has ruled for corporations and against working people in most cases that have come before him. His record is extremely conservative. In fact, Gorsuch has sided with corporations two-thirds of the time.

Irene Booze with disability rights advocate Dynah HaubertHe's "strictly against the working-class people," says Booze, pictured above with disability rights advocate Dynah Haubert. "It was unimaginable to hear. Something needed to be not only said but done."

What she did next was powerful. Through her local union, Booze joined a March 9 #StopGorsuch news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., hosted by several U.S. senators who agree with her, including Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

"It's a sad thing to say, but I don't feel like there are enough people in power who are looking to give everybody an equal opportunity," Booze says. "There are too many people who don't get it—who don't see the needs of others."

What put it over the top for her was a lawsuit in which Gorsuch dismissed the rights of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P. involved a student with autism whose parents said he needed a residential school because the school district hadn't been able to address his needs. Before this case reached the circuit court, an impartial hearing officer, an administrative law judge and a federal district court judge all agreed that IDEA required this accommodation. But Gorsuch took the extraordinary step of reversing their decision and denying the student his placement. The standard he applied is under review in another case called Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District that's now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It hit home for me," says Booze, who is not only a special ed para but whose four children include a grown daughter with a disability. "I've been fighting this fight for a very long time. It's personal."

The solution is simple, she says. More and more working people need to make themselves heard in opposition to this nominee. And they need to demand a stop to every act of the Trump administration that hurts working families.

We need justices of the Supreme Court who will stand up to corporations and to the president, Booze says. She doubts Gorsuch would do that, given his record. If she could talk to him directly, she says, she would tell him: "You are completely oblivious to the challenges facing working-class people."

Booze doesn't let Trump off the hook, of course, noting that he ran on a slogan of "making American great again" but now has put forward a budget proposal that would eliminate many essential programs—even Meals on Wheels. "That's unheard of. That's unreal to me," she says. "How do you demolish people who matter and say that you're making the country great again?"

AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee with the same objections Booze has—that Gorsuch sides with the powerful over those without power, and that his record shows a pattern of favoring corporations over working Americans. He has ruled against workers' health and safety, rejected their job discrimination claims, and denied their claims for earned pay and benefits.

At the news conference, Booze highlighted what's at stake for workers: the right to organize, a living wage, safe working conditions, and good, affordable health insurance. Being part of a union, she said, is the best way of speaking out. "I believe this to my core: When unions are strong, America is strong. Workers need a justice on the Supreme Court who will stand with them. Neil Gorsuch is not that guy."

[Annette Licitra]