Judges have been taking an ethics bashing here recently, so I feel it’s only fair to report that the three-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a 2-to-1 decision, determined that the University of Michigan’ speech police, known there as its Bias Response Team, chilled free speech on campus and thus violates the First Amendment. The Team’s function is to investigate incidents reported by students that are deemed racist, sexist, hostile to LGBTQ students or otherwise “offensive” to the right groups of people. For example, if I were a student there, the creation of such an entity would be profoundly offensive to me. That presumably wouldn’t matter.
Speech First, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties watchdog, sued Michigan last year, seeking an injunction to halt the activities of the BRT. The lawsuit argued that the Bias Response Team is illegal because it could potentially deter students from making statements or engaging in conduct that some on campus might find offensive but are still protected under the First Amendment. The university’s definitions of “harassment” and “bullying” were ominously broad, though Michigan did refine them after the suit was filed. The looming presence of a speech and conduct response team that could be focused on a non-conforming student by a single complaint could reasonably be expected to make students hesitate to express themselves.
Ya think? Nonetheless, a U.S. District Court judge initially denied the injunction last year. [Note: Here I have deleted a series of comments about the agenda and political affiliation of this judge and those who reason like him. I am trying to practice more self-restraint, today anyway.] Continue reading