Tuesday, May 22, 2007
The U. S. Supreme Court decided a case yesterday that reversed a judgment of the Sixth Circuit that had dismissed an appeal for lack of counsel. The parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder had worked for years with the Parma Ohio schools to develop an individualized education. The question presented in the case was "whether parents...may proceed in court unrepresented by counsel though they are not trained and licensed as attorneys." The court majority held that the rights conferred by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") are "enforceable rights at the administrative stage, and it would be inconsistent with the statutory scheme to bar [the parents] from continuing to assert these rights in federal court." Significantly, the court declined to consider the broader questions relating to the rights of parents to litigate their child's claims pro se. Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, dissented.
The broader question of the extent to which a non-lawyer can proceed on behalf of another is an interesting and highly practical one. It would have been useful for the court to opine on that issue. (Mike Frisch)