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Week 32 (2018)

Weeks of August 6, 2018 through August 17, 2018

Sierra Club v. United States Dep’t of the Interior (Gregory 8/6/2018): Petitioners sought an injunction halting all construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Court held that an injunction was not warranted or that they lacked jurisdiction to issue one. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

Abbott v. Pastides, No. 17-1853

Decided: August 16, 2018

In Abbott v. Pastides, the United State’s Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the University of South Carolina did not violate the First Amendment rights of the sponsors of a free speech event (“Event”). In 2015, several organizations on the University’s campus sought and received approval for the Event that was meant to highlight perceived threats to free expression on college campuses. The Event featured signs and symbols known to spark free speech controversies in other campuses. The Event took place on campus without interference.

After the Event, some students complained to the University that the Event sponsors made sexist and racist statements at the scene. A University official met with one of the event’s student sponsors, to review the complaints and to determine whether an investigation was warranted. A few weeks later, the University concluded that there was no cause for an investigation and the matter was dropped.

The organizations behind the Event filed a First Amendment action against the University.  The plaintiffs contended the Event violated the sponsor’s First Amendment rights to require him to attend a meeting to discuss the complaints surrounding the Event. The plaintiffs also stated a facial challenge to the University’s general policy on harassment, arguing that it was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The district court rejected both claims and entered summary judgment for the University defendants. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court and affirmed on both counts.

The Fourth Circuit reasoned that the University neither prevented the plaintiffs from holding their Event, nor sanctioned them after the Event. Furthermore,  the Court found that the University’s prompt and minimally intrusive resolution of student complaints did not rise to the level of a First Amendment violation. Finally, in regard to the harassment policy, the Court reasoned that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they could not show a credible threat that the University would actually enforce its harassment policy in the future.

Full Opinion

Kirsten Peterson