ASAN Statement on DC Circuit’s Denial of Rehearing in Judge Rotenberg Center Case

a person holding a sign that says Stop the Shocks

Today, ASAN learned that the DC Circuit Court refused to reconsider a court ruling that allows the Judge Rotenberg Center to continue using skin shocks on disabled people. ASAN is outraged at the DC Circuit’s decision. ASAN calls on the FDA to do whatever it takes to reinstate a ban by immediately reintroducing a new rule that would address the court’s concerns while effectively banning these devices. The disability community has fought for decades against this torture – enough is enough. 

In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of skin shock devices on people with disabilities – a practice that the United Nations has recognized as torture. The ban was supported by decades of advocacy and extensive research. The Judge Rotenberg Center sued in order to keep using the devices. The case went before three judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Two out of those three judges sided with the Judge Rotenberg Center, striking down the ban. As a result, the Judge Rotenberg Center can continue subjecting disabled people to painful electric shocks on a daily basis. The FDA asked for a chance to argue its case before all of the judges on the DC Circuit, instead of just three. This is called a rehearing en banc. But the DC Circuit has said that it would not allow a rehearing en banc

The DC Circuit’s decision was based on the fact that the FDA banned some uses of shock devices but not others. The FDA said that shocks could not be used on disabled people, but that devices people chose to use to stop smoking were okay. The DC Circuit said that the FDA could not decide how a device could or couldn’t be used. 

The FDA should immediately issue a new rule that addresses the court’s ruling. The rule will have to ban all uses of skin shock devices like the ones used at the Judge Rotenberg Center. The devices used at the Judge Rotenberg Center are very different from devices used for other purposes, so this should be easy for the FDA to do. 

We call on the FDA to take immediate action to make sure that a new rule can go into effect as soon as possible. Disabled children and adults are being tortured every day. They cannot afford to wait any longer.

Our community has fought long and hard to end the Judge Rotenberg Center’s torture of disabled people. ASAN will continue to collaborate with state and federal policymakers, including the FDA, to end all forms of abuse against disabled people. We will not rest until no disabled person is subjected to torture in the name of “treatment.”

For more information, contact Sam Crane, ASAN’s Legal Director, at

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement with regard to autism. ASAN believes that the goal of autism advocacy should be a world in which autistic people enjoy equal access, rights, and opportunities. We work to empower autistic people across the world to take control of our own lives and the future of our common community, and seek to organize the autistic community to ensure our voices are heard in the national conversation about us. Nothing About Us, Without Us!