Winkelman v. Parma City decided

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On Monday, May 22, the Supreme Court decided Winkelman v. Parma City School District, which Shlep has been covering as it made its way through the courts.  To recap briefly, the case involved two parents, the Winkelmans, of a disabled child who were unsatisfied with the education their son was receiving under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  After going through the proper administrative channels, the Winkelman’s appealed to federal court, acting as their own, or alternatively as their son’s, counsel.  The case was dismissed in the Sixth Circuit because the parents were held to not have a right to bring the case to court under IDEA and alternatively, not to have the right to act pro se on their child’s behalf. 

On May 22, the Supreme Court held that parents have a cause of action under IDEA.  They therefore did not reach the question of whether parents may act pro se on their child’s behalf.  However, as Scalia pointed out in his dissent:

Both sides agree…that the common law generally prohibited lay parents from representing their children in court, a manifestation of the more general common-law rule that nonattorneys cannot litigate the interests of another.

It is difficult to guage from the opinion whether the Court would now be open to reconsidering that rule.  The Court does note the tradition that parents have a special interest in their children’s education, but this is a far cry from extending that right to representing the child in legal matters before the court, even those dealing with this fundamental right.

For more commentary, SCOTUSblog  covered this decision in depth, and also links to media coverage at NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere.

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