Appeal in boy's burp arrest case relies on Gorsuch dissent

Legal Insight Posted on

One of Neil Gorsuch's sharpest dissents as an appeals court judge came just six months before he was nominated for the Supreme Court.

That's when he sided with a New Mexico seventh-grader who was handcuffed and arrested after his teacher said the student had disrupted gym class with fake burps.

Nearly a year later, Gorsuch sits on the nation's higher court and the boy's mother is asking the justices to take up her appeal. She's using Gorsuch's words to argue that she has a right to sue the officer who arrested her son.

The court could act as early as Monday, either to deny the case or take more time to decide.

Justices typically withdraw from cases they heard before joining the Supreme Court, which means Gorsuch probably would not have any role in considering this one. But that hasn't stopped lawyers for the mother from featuring his stinging dissent prominently in legal papers. Gorsuch said arresting a "class clown" for burping was going "a step too far."

"If a seventh-grader starts trading fake burps for laughs in gym class, what's a teacher to do?" Gorsuch wrote. "Order extra laps? Detention? A trip to the principal's office? Maybe. But then again, maybe that's too old school. Maybe today you call a police officer. And maybe today the officer decides that, instead of just escorting the now compliant thirteen-year-old to the principal's office, an arrest would be a better idea."

Whether the Supreme Court ultimately takes the case or not may have nothing to do with Gorsuch. The justices have repeatedly turned away disputes over school disciplinary policies. Or they may decide it's not important enough for the court to intervene.

The appeal comes as some school districts have been rolling back "zero tolerance" discipline policies that expanded in the 1990s. The shift is aimed at preventing students from getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

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