SpeechFirst University Database cases

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An organization, Speech First, sued Virginia Tech University (Mr. Sands) on behalf of students. Virginia Tech has a website for anonymous complaints about student speech. Those complaints go into surveillance software, and a Bias Response Team (BRT) may invite the accused student to voluntarily meet with university officials. Assume that the speech is privileged under the 1st Amendment and so cannot be punished or discouraged. Assume too that the university does not punish the student in any way beyond the process described-- the BRT has no disciplinary power beyond a scolding. The issue is whether Virginia Tech is "chilling" free speech even so. Two judges said no, because students suffered no harm for their speech; the dissenting judge (the famous Harvey Wilkinson) said yes, because having your political views in a database and being invited even to a meeting labelled as "voluntary" is frightening.

The Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) and its member organizations, including my own MIT Free Speech Alliance (MFSA) plan to submit an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to grant cert to an appeal (the first step of the appeal, since the Supreme Court only can listen to a small fraction of appeals). There is a 3 to 2 circuit split on the issue, so chances of being granted cert are good.

Here is our amicus brief asking for the case to be heard.

The 4th Circuit Virginia Tech Case, Speech First v. Sands

The Supreme Court

The District Court, Western District of Virginia

The Appellate Court, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

Amici, Pro-SpeechFirst

There were no amici for Virginia Tech. Were there amici for the universities in any of the other 4 circuits.

Other Circuits

Articles on the Lawsuits

Articles on Student Surveillance Systems