Campus Speech Codes and Bias Teams Face New Legal Threat in UT Ruling

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5th Circuit Permits Law Suits by Outside Organizations; Predicts Defeat For University of Texas

WASHINGTON - eTradeWire -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has upheld a new legal weapon which can be used to strike down campus speech codes and so-called bias response teams (or squads), and strongly suggested that those at the University of Texas [UT] are unconstitutional, even after UT amended them in an unsuccessful effort to protect them from this law suit, reports public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Noting that students are often "afraid to voice their views out of fear that their speech may be considered 'offensive,' 'biased,' 'rude,' 'uncivil,' or 'harassing,'" and that they "fear that they will be investigated or punished by the University for engaging in speech or expression that is protected by the First Amendment," the Court held that an outside organization had legal standing to sue on their behalf, even though no UT students were named.

A finding of unconstitutionality could lead to a judgement against the UT President Gregory L. Fenves personally, and a possible cutoff of federal funding to his institution, under President Trump's recent executive order requiring such a cessation of funding for public universities found to have violated constitutionally protected free speech rights, notes Banzhaf.

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In its Wednesday ruling, the Court concluded that "the chilling effect of allegedly vague regulations, coupled with a range of potential penalties for violating the regulations, was, as other courts have held, sufficient 'injury' to ensure that Speech First 'has a 'personal stake in the outcome of the controversy.'"

Thus this finding that UT's campus speech codes and bias response team ["CCRT Campus Climate Response Team"] appear to be unconstitutional follow an earlier ruling by the 6th Circuit that, as this new decision summarized it, "campus discriminatory harassment speech policy is, on its face, unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, after district court found that students had standing to sue despite lack of enforcement against them." @profbanzhaf


Source: Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf
Filed Under: Education

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