WASHINGTON — President Trump’s first U.S. Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, has received high marks from conservatives and now is being applauded for demonstrating common sense in a 2016 ruling.
Gorsuch was the lone dissenter in a case that dealt with a 13-year-old boy who was arrested at a New Mexico school for making fake burb noises. Although two justices on the 10th Circuit ruled that the school was within its rights to do what it did, Gorsuch dissented and said the arrest never should have been made.
According to the court’s decision, the teacher reported that the student had “generated several fake burps, which made the other students laugh and hampered class proceedings.” She put him in the hallways, but he then “leaned into the classroom entranceway and continued to burp and laugh,” according to the teacher.
The teacher contacted a school police officer, who arrested the boy on interfering with the educational process.
The mother sued, arguing the police officer had used excessive force and had made an unlawful arrest. Gorsuch sided with the mom.
“If a seventh grader starts trading fake burps for laughs in gym class, what’s a teacher to do?” he asked in his dissent. “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. So out come the handcuffs and off goes the child to juvenile detention. My colleagues suggest the law permits exactly this option and they offer ninety-four pages explaining why they think that’s so. Respectfully, I remain unpersuaded.”
Other courts, Gorsuch wrote, also ruled that it takes more than childish antics to spark an arrest.
“The simple fact is the New Mexico Court of Appeals long ago alerted law enforcement that the statutory language on which the officer relied for the arrest in this case does not criminalize ‘noise[s] or diversion[s]’ that merely ‘disturb the peace or good order’ of individual classes. … Instead, the court explained, the law requires ‘a more substantial, more physical invasion’ of the school’s operations — proof that the student more ‘substantially interfered’ with the ‘actual functioning’ of the school. … What’s more, other state courts have interpreted similar statutes similarly. They’ve sustained criminal convictions for students who created substantial disorders across an entire school. But they’ve also refused to hold students criminally liable for classroom antics that ‘momentarily divert[ed] attention from the planned classroom activity” and ‘require[d] some intervention by a school official.’”
The case is A.M. v. Holmes.
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