Amicus Brief: Abbott v. Pastides

Amicus Brief

Amicus Brief: Abbott v. Pastides

The Supreme Court should make clear that public universities violate the First Amendment by subjecting their students to investigations for having exercised their First Amendment rights.

The ACLU of South Carolina, DKT Liberty Project, Cato Institute and Reason Foundation filed this amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Abbott v. Pastides.

Ross Abbott, College Libertarians at the University of South Carolina, and Young Americans For Liberty at the University of South Carolina, Petitioners,
v.
Harris Pastides, Dennis Pruitt, Bobby Gist, and Carl R. Wells, Respondents.

Introduction and Summary of Argument

For decades, this Court has recognized the importance of ensuring that students in our nation’s public colleges and universities enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment to speak freely without fear of punishment or retribution. Yet in recent years, many of those institutions, facing pressure from constituencies that would erode that protection to further other objectives, have established campus speech codes. The codes are often implemented by procedures that, as here, subject students to inquisitorial investigations triggered by unquestionably protected speech.

This Court has yet to address those codes. This case raises issues that highlight their most egregious aspects, and thus merits the Court’s review. Many public universities uncritically reject criticism that they should not subject students to an inquisitorial process for exercising their First Amendment rights. They claim that the process is proper as long as it does not ultimately impose any punishment or retribution for protected speech. But that response ignores the critical point that the “process is the punishment.”

The protections of the First Amendment would be of little value if university officials could, with impunity, subject students to unreasonable and burdensome procedures simply for engaging in protected speech. This Court should make clear that public universities violate the First Amendment by subjecting their students to investigations for having exercised their First Amendment rights, and that “no harm, no foul” is not a defense to the unconstitutional conduct.

Full Amicus Brief: Abbott v. Pastides