US Supreme Court building, Washington, DC (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / ALM)

The Supreme Court revived a lawsuit by a Georgia student who sued school officials after he was prevented from distributing Christian literature on campus.

The Supreme Court sided 8-1 with student Chike Uzuegbunam and against Georgia Gwinnett College. Uzuegbunam has since graduated, and the Lawrenceville, Georgia public school has changed its guidelines. Lower courts said the case was contentious, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

Groups from across the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, had stated that the case is important to ensure that people whose constitutional rights have been violated can continue their cases even if governments question the one they are calling Reverse politics.

The question was whether Uzuegbunam’s case could continue because he only applied for so-called nominal damages of $ 1.

“In this case, the question is asked whether awarding nominal damage alone can remedy an earlier injury. We believe this is possible, ”wrote Judge Clarence Thomas for the majority in the court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote only for himself and disagreed. Roberts argued that the case brought by Uzuegbunam and another student, Joseph Bradford, is contentious because the two are no longer college students, the restrictions no longer exist, and they “have not alleged actual harm”.

Roberts wrote of the symbolic dollar they are looking for, saying, “If nominal damage can preserve a living controversy, federal courts must provide advisory opinions when a plaintiff files a motion for a dollar.” He blamed his colleagues, “Judges admitted To make counselors “.

It appears to be the first time in his more than 15 years in court that the Chief Justice has filed a solo dissent on a dispute. That’s according to Adam Feldman, creator of the Empirical SCOTUS blog, which keeps track of a wide variety of data about the court.

Uzuegbunam’s attorney, Kristen Wagoner of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a group focused on belief-based cases, welcomed the ruling. “We are delighted that the Supreme Court has incriminated the justice side for these victims,” ​​she said in a statement.

Georgia Gwinnett College did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

In January, on disputes in the case, which judges heard over the coronavirus pandemic, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said he had “strong suspicions” that the dispute had continued as the issue of nominal damage was important to determine who pays the Uzuegbunam lawyers fees.

Georgia Gwinnett College had for years a restrictive policy restricting where students could give speeches and distribute written material to two “free speech” areas. Students had to get permission to demonstrate, march, or distribute leaflets in other areas.

In 2016, Uzuegbunam was handing out Christian brochures and speaking to students on campus when a security guard told him he needed to make a reservation and distribute literature in one of the college’s two language zones. But when Uzuegbunam did, he was approached again saying that there had been complaints and that he had to stop.

Uzuegbunam sued and the college changed its policy in 2017. Students can now typically demonstrate or distribute literature anywhere, anytime on campus without prior approval. The college has said it will not go back to its old policies.

The case is Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, 19-968.

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