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SCOTUS RULED: STUDENTS ABLE TO SUE COLLEGES OVER FREE SPEECH

Lord God, thank You for this praise. We ask that You continue to protect our freedoms and help us to stand for what is right.

That gasp heard after this ruling dropped comes from every college and university with a “free speech zone” and policies that impose heckler’s vetoes. Plaintiffs suing over restrictions on speech and religious expression on campus only need to establish “nominal damages” to gain standing, the Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision, not necessarily actual damages. That opens up a vast new field of litigation that attorneys all across the country will rush to meet. . . .

The 8-1 ruling in Uzuegbunam v Preczewski from Justice Clarence Thomas does not actually settle the case in favor of the students, but the writing is on the wall for Georgia Gwinnett College:

(a) To establish Article III standing, the Constitution requires a plaintiff to identify an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct and to seek a remedy likely to redress that injury. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U. S. 330, 338. The dispute here concerns whether the remedy Uzuegbunam sought—nominal damages—can redress the completed constitutional violation that he alleges occurred when campus officials enforced the speech policies against him. The Court looks to the forms of relief awarded at common law to determine whether nominal damages can redress a past injury. The prevailing rule at common law was that a party whose rights are invaded can always recover nominal damages without furnishing evidence of actual damage. By permitting plaintiffs to pursue nominal damages whenever they suffered a personal legal injury, the common law avoided the oddity of privileging small economic rights over important, but not easily quantifiable, nonpecuniary rights. Pp. 3–8.

(b) The common law did not require a plea for compensatory damages as a prerequisite to an award of nominal damages. Nominal damages are not purely symbolic. They are instead the damages awarded by default until the plaintiff establishes entitlement to some other form of damages. A single dollar often will not provide full redress, but the partial remedy satisfies the redressability requirement. Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U. S. 9, 13. Respondents’ argument that a plea for compensatory damages is necessary to confer jurisdiction also does not square with established principles of standing. And unlike an award of attorney’s fees and costs which may be the byproduct of a successful suit, an award of nominal damages constitutes relief on the merits. Pp. 8–11.

(c) A request for redress in the form of nominal damages does not guarantee entry to court. In addition to redressability, the plaintiff must establish the other elements of standing and satisfy all other relevant requirements, such as pleading a cognizable cause of action. Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him. Nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms. The Court does not decide whether Bradford can pursue nominal damages and leaves for the District Court to determine whether Bradford has established a past, completed injury. Pp. 11–12. . . .

This is not to say that a request for nominal damages guarantees entry to court. Our holding concerns only redressability. It remains for the plaintiff to establish the other elements of standing (such as a particularized injury); plead a cognizable cause of action, Planck v. Anderson, 5 T. R. 37, 41, 101 Eng. Rep. 21, 23 (K. B. 1792) (“if no [actual] damage be sustained, the creditor has no cause of action” for some claims); and meet all other relevant requirements. We hold only that, for the purpose of Article III standing, nominal damages provide the necessary redress for a completed violation of a legal right.

Applying this principle here is straightforward. For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him. Because “every violation [of a right] imports damage,” Webb, 29 F. Cas., at 509, nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.*   . . .

The Court resists this conclusion, holding that the petitioners can keep pressing their claims because they have asked for “nominal damages.” In the Court’s view, nominal damages can save a case from mootness because any amount of money—no matter how trivial—“can redress a past injury.” Ante, at 1. But an award of nominal damages does not alleviate the harms suffered by a plaintiff, and is not intended to. If nominal damages can preserve a live controversy, then federal courts will be required to give advisory opinions whenever a plaintiff tacks on a request for a dollar. Because I would place a higher value on Article III, I respectfully dissent. …

Today’s decision risks a major expansion of the judicial role. Until now, we have said that federal courts can review the legality of policies and actions only as a necessary incident to resolving real disputes. Going forward, the Judiciary will be required to perform this function whenever a plaintiff asks for a dollar. For those who want to know if their rights have been violated, the least dangerous branch will become the least expensive source of legal advice. . . .

Because nominal damages were available at common law in analogous circumstances, we conclude that a request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element of standing where a plaintiff’s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right.

The dissent worries that after today the Judiciary will be required to weigh in on legal questions “whenever a plaintiff asks for a dollar.” Post, at 9. But petitioners still would have satisfied redressability if instead of one dollar in nominal damages they sought one dollar in compensation for a wasted bus fare to travel to the free speech zone. The dissent “would place a higher value on Article III” than a dollar. Post, at 1; but see Sprint Communications Co. v. APCC Services, Inc., 554 U. S. 269, 305 (2008) (ROBERTS, C. J., dissenting) (“Article III is worth a dollar”). But Congress abolished the statutory amount-in-controversy requirement for federal-question jurisdiction in 1980. Federal Question Jurisdictional Amendments Act, 94 Stat. 2369. And we have never held that one applies as a matter of constitutional law. . . .

In a sense, they both have it right. Plaintiffs will start seeking out judicial penalties on those who infringe on core constitutional rights, and likely in great numbers, after this ruling on Uzuegbunam. That should have colleges and universities very, very worried — and might be the first real set of consequences for Academia after decades of forcing speech codes and silence on their students. Just the added risk of ending up in federal court might be enough of an incentive to force these universities and colleges to recalculate risk and reward.

Let’s hope that recalculation comes quickly, and both dissent and religious expression return to campuses as fast as possible. . . .

Alliance Defending Freedom represented the plaintiff in this case, but their senior counsel noted just how much consensus formed around their position. . . .

Share your comments on this Supreme Court decision below. . .

(Excerpt from Hot Air. Article by Ed Morrissey. Photo Credit: Getty Images.)

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14 Replies to “SCOTUS RULED: STUDENTS ABLE TO SUE COLLEGES OVER FREE SPEECH”

  1. I, and others I know, have thought for some time that something is not right with Justice John Roberts and the unlikely “decisions” he has made! Perhaps we need to pray, “that which is hidden, God will allow to come to the light.” Justice Roberts votes have literally been unconstitutional!! Why would any justice vote against freedom of speech? Deception is rampant in this nation, as we know. But……our God is a God of light, of truth and of Justice! Pray, pray, pray!

    Amen! 4
    1. For sure, Justice John Roberts is nothing like conservatives thought he would be!! He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing! No conservative would change that much without some outside “motivation.” I pray too, that God would shine His light on this man’s agenda. So many people in Washington who are traitors to our country! God have mercy on us!

      Amen! 1
  2. The question is then, will universities who have tolerated bad behavior from socialist, disrupter, lawless students now come down on those who will not listen, or even respect this rule of law from the Supreme Court. It seems that this action is only a reinforcement of “freedom of speech laws” already established in our Constitution.
    Since freedom of speech has always been lawful in America, and protection of civil discourse in debating has been in place all along; it’s the enforcement issue that has not been handled with any kind of courage or authority on too many campuses.
    Will Vandalism, slander and threats of bodily harm be dealt with promptly and forcefully? This ruling from SCOTUS is overdue, but gratefully acknowledged as a step forward for Constitutional rights reaffirmed!
    May God give wisdom to those who should benefit from this ruling; other than just lawyers.

    Amen! 6
  3. The court did a very good thing here, especially in light of the level of cancel culture being promoted in American colleges and universities. Re-establishing rights, schools never had the legal authority or Constitutional to restrict. I love it, the law has freed the gospel. Praise the Lord.

    Amen! 7
  4. Now these liberal colleges that teach our youth to hate God, family and country and try to supress their 1st Amendment Constitutional Rights of freedom of speech can now be sued. Good for the Supreme Court.

    Let freedom ring the cash registers of those who were denied their Constitutional rights of freedom of speech with lawsuits against these awful institutions of so called higher learning.

    God bless America and God bless this legislation. Amen.

    Amen! 7
  5. Praise God, way to go Alliance Defending Freedom! Now, I pray God’s children in University will be bold as lions to speak the Truth. God’s Word and Spirit are much more powerful than the lies and deception of Antifa, BLM, and the anti-Christ “Greek gods” of Academia. May God bless all you precious students with great favor and wisdom and place His angels around you. Be BOLD! Jesus is Lord!

    Amen! 20
    1. That is what the Supreme Court is supposed to do, and they did it… this time. The either endorse or condemn activities by using the Constitution as their standard. Everything has to measure up as Constitutional law, and the Supreme Court is supposed to ensure that it happens.

      Amen! 1

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