Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Virginia Tech’s Bias-Response Protocol

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Virginia Tech's Bias-Response Protocol
Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Virginia Tech's Bias-Response Protocol. Credit | REUTERS

United States – The US Supreme Court avoided on Monday a conservative group’s attack on Virginia Tech University’s system of monitoring and reporting allegations of bias against LGBT people, racial minorities, religious organizations, and others–after deciding that the case was no longer relevant..

Virginia Tech’s Request

The justices reversed a decision by the 4th US Circuit Court in Virginia, to not block the policy, and thus, the standing of the organization was also denied. Virginia Tech had asked the Supreme Court to ignore the group’s appeal, saying that the case was moot because the school’s bias-response protocol was already gone.

The opponent in this case is the organization Speech First, with its website claiming that it is fighting the “toxic censorship culture on college campuses.”. With lawsuits filed, Speech First targets at least five college campuses that have speech policies in place, as reported by Reuters.

Lawsuit and University Protocol

The initial 2021 lawsuit in the name of the university group against the Ph.D. Timothy Sands, president of Virginia Tech located in Blacksburg, Virginia, aimed to inhibit the school from implementing its “Bias Intervention and Response Team” protocol.

The policy defined “bias incidents” as “expressions against a person or group” based on categories that include race, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation “or any other basis protected by law,” according to court records.

By reporting incidents of bias at a confidential online platform, the Bias Intervention and Response Team, consisting of university administrators, representatives from student groups, and the Virginia Tech police department, used to review cases on a weekly basis, according to court records.

First Amendment and Free Speech Rights

In the lawsuit, Speech First claimed that the First Amendment’s free speech right of their student members at Virginia Tech was violated by the Virginia Tech bias-response team. Speech First has dubbed this team the ‘literal speech police’ and the presence of these people on campus will ‘objectively chill’ student speech, especially when it relates to opinions that are out of favor.

Virginia Tech claimed in court documents that the judges should reject the group’s appeal as moot and that “its bias protocol was always subordinated to the First Amendment.”

First, in response, Speech First stated that the inactivity of the policy is not a reason to prevent the court from hearing the case. It expressed that the policy “the law doesn’t let respondents unilaterally pull the plug on a policy that they maintained for years and still defend, just in time to prevent this court’s review.”

The problem of free Speech on college and university campuses has become a critical matter in the US culture war, with a demand for containment of hate speech among some liberals and a demand for no speech code to be imposed on students because of their conservative views among some conservatives, as reported by Reuters.

Legal Battles and District Court Decision

In late 2021, US District Magistrate Judge Michael Urbanski rejected the Speech First request to disqualify the Virginia Tech policy. The judge further held that the club lacked the legal basis for the suit as it failed to show “that its members have an intention to engage in a course of conduct that is proscribed by” Virginia Tech’s protocol, finding that, in fact, the school’s anti-bias policies “do not proscribe anything at all.”