Since Donald Trump announced Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court, media have coalesced around a few themes: One is about whether any Trump appointment should be blocked as payback to Republicans, as expressed in a New York Times headline (2/13/17): “Democrats’ Quandary on Gorsuch: Appease the Base or Honor the Process.” Spoiler: The paper thinks the real strain is on “those in the middle.”
Another theme is Gorsuch’s “eloquence” and his being “hard to pigeonhole” as conservative: One story said he “didn’t skip a beat” when a friend came out to him as gay.
There are stories about concerns around Gorsuch’s record on the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit: They focus on his justifiably concerning ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, where the chain store won the right to deny employees contraception coverage and in which he described birth control, falsely, as “destroying a fertilized human egg.”
But the lens corporate media use for Supreme Court nominees has some blind spots. In this case, you could read all the elite press have to offer on Gorsuch and never hear about human rights for people with disabilities. You’d need to find ACLU attorney Claudia Center’s piece on her group’s website (2/3/17) to learn about Hwang vs. Kansas State University—a case brought by assistant professor Grace Hwang, who was returning to work after a leave of absence for cancer treatment when the campus broke out in a flu epidemic, leading her to request to work from home for a short period as her immune system was weakened.
Judge Gorsuch sided with the school that this request was unreasonable and he said that disability rights rules aren’t meant to “turn employers into safety net providers for those who cannot work.” That call, which Center notes represented errors of both law and fact, went against every other circuit decision on the issue, as well as guidance from the EEOC and the Supreme Court. But a search of major media on “Gorsuch” and “Hwang” turns up zero stories.
Despite disabled people constituting, according to the Census Bureau, some 19 percent of the US population—that’s nearly 1 in 5 people—how the highest court in the land may affect their ability to work and live just isn’t that interesting to corporate media. With a president that openly mocks disabled people, that kind of disinterest is even more dangerous.
Janine Jackson is the program director of FAIR and the producer and host of CounterSpin.