Amicus Brief: Speech First, Inc. v. Sands
Orwellian “bias response teams” have become commonplace at public universities across the country, stifling the free exchange of ideas and violating students’ First Amendment rights. Bias-response policies allow anyone who witnesses a “bias incident”—an opaque term reflecting the listener’s subjective assessment of the offensiveness of the speaker’s speech—to report the event online. That’s when “investigations” begin, typically handled by the campus DEI office, to determine if actionable “bias” exists.
Speech First, a nonprofit organization dedicated to students’ First Amendment rights, has successfully challenged these policies in the Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits. Two other circuits—the Seventh and now the Fourth in a case involving Virginia Tech—have ruled in favor of the universities. Speech First is now petitioning the Supreme Court to resolve this 3–2 circuit split. The Manhattan Institute joined Alliance Defending Freedom on an amicus brief supporting that petition, giving examples of university policies that chill speech and discriminate based on viewpoint. The suppression of academic speech has been the stepping stone for authoritarian regimes, so the Supreme Court ought to step in and prevent further restrictions on the free exchange of ideas.
Tim Rosenberger is a legal fellow at the Manhattan Institute.