SCOTUS Allows Georgia Gwinnett College Free-Speech Case To Move Forward

In 2017, Chike Uzuegbunam a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, filed suit against the college alleging his first amendment rights of free speech were violated.

Student Chike Uzuegbunam, an Evangelical Christian, was told that if he wanted to evangelize his faith to his fellow students, he would have to apply three days in advance for a permit, and then confine his activities to one of the two free-speech zones. After receiving the permit, he was told by campus cops that he could not share his faith even in one of the speech zones, because doing so violated a campus ban on “disturb[ing] the peace and/or comfort of person(s).”

I was in the Legislature at the time and when I heard about this incident, Rep. Earl Ehrhart and I met with the President and other officials at GGC. To their credit, they changed their free speech policies.

However, Chike Uzuegbunam didn’t drop the lawsuit and it looks like it just might end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. An 8-1 ruling allows the lawsuit to continue, even though damages claimed are only $1.

NRO’s Dan McClaughlin wrote today

(Justice Clarence) Thomas wrote the majority opinion in an 8–1 decision finding that a suit for nominal damages for a violation of noneconomic constitutional rights can be maintained in federal court. Much of the decision, in originalist fashion, traced the common-law history of nominal damages, which were originally disfavored but gained acceptance in the English common law after a 1703 decision by the House of Lords (Britain’s highest judicial body) in a case involving the denial of the right to vote. As Justice Thomas wrote, the Court rejected “the flawed premise that nominal damages are purely symbolic, a mere judicial token that provides no actual benefit to the plaintiff.”

This will be an interesting case to keep an eye on, and it should serve as a warning to college and universities – changing policy and seeking to have a lawsuit terminated might not excuse violations of a student’s constitutional rights.

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