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Clarence Thomas references Gonzaga University case in Planned Parenthood dissent

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 11, 2018

Smiles come across the faces of several justices of the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of a formal photo session, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. A case against Gonzaga University that reached the Supreme Court in 2002 resurfaced Dec. 10, 2018 when Justice Clarence Thomas referenced the case in dissent. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Smiles come across the faces of several justices of the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of a formal photo session, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. A case against Gonzaga University that reached the Supreme Court in 2002 resurfaced Dec. 10, 2018 when Justice Clarence Thomas referenced the case in dissent. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

A case against Gonzaga University that reached the Supreme Court in 2002 resurfaced this week when Justice Clarence Thomas referenced the case in dissent.

The court declined on Monday to hear cases from Kansas and Louisiana, which attempted to slash Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. The court’s decision to pass on the case means a lower court ruling that stopped the two states from cutting the Medicaid funding will stand. Planned Parenthood argued that cutting the Medicaid funding denied patients equal access to medical care and imposed in an undue burden on the patients who would be forced to change doctors.

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the dissenting opinion; Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch joined him in his dissent.

Thomas argued in his dissent that the federal law allowing people to file lawsuits if their rights have been infringed needs clarification. He was skeptical that Medicaid patients had a right to challenge the government’s decision to exclude coverage for certain medical care providers, in this case, Planned Parenthood.

One of the cases he cited to bolster this argument was Gonzaga University v. Doe 2002.

This U.S. Supreme Court case originated in Spokane County court in 1997, when Gonzaga University was ordered to pay graduate Ru Paster $1.1 million in damages. Paster argued that he could seek damages because the university had violated his rights under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects the privacy of student records.

While in school, Paster had been accused of raping a fellow student, allegations which the accuser herself did not characterize as rape, but the school pursued regardless. The university did not notify him of these allegations, but after graduation refused to forward his teacher certificate without a note about the incident. This case preceded Title IX guidance which would have required an investigation into the allegations and potentially a hearing.

Gonzaga stated that in disclosing Paster’s behavior, they were adhering to state guidelines that they should report “knowledge of potential serious behavioral problems” in a student.

“I’ll have to think about whether I can teach – ever,” said Paster in a previous Spokesman-Review article.

Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision to award Paster damages in 2002 in an opinion authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

As a law, FERPA guides schools to keep students’ records confidential or the school may face repercussions, such as loss of funding. FERPA does not state a student’s right to records privacy. Thomas believes that individual rights need to be blatantly stated in the law to be covered, as in the Gonzaga case ruling.

Thomas also had an opinion as to why the court was not taking the case.

“So what explains the Court’s refusal to do its job here?” Thomas said. “I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood.’ ”

Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said he was fascinated by Thomas’ suspicion voiced in his dissent.

“I think that proves they don’t want to mess with Planned Parenthood,” he said. “I think they know that the majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood.”

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