SpeechFirst v. Sands, MFSA/AFSA Amicus Brief

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  the MIT Free Speech Alliance (MFSA)  submitted 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. Amici on this brief are:  The Mit Free Speech Alliance, The Alumni Free Speech Alliance, The
University of California Free Speech Alliance, The Cornell Free Speech Alliance, Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse, The Generals Redoubt, Harvard Alumni for Free Speech, The Jefferson Council for the University o Virginia, Princetonians for Free Speech,  and The UNC Free Speech Alliance. 

Amicus briefs  on the side of SpeechFirst were also submitted by the  Foundation for Moral Law,  the Southeastern Legal Foundation, Liberty Justice Center, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), The Buckeye Institute, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Inc., Parents Defending Education, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, et al., and  Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)  et al. . No amicus briefs were filed on the side of Sands/VirginiaTech. 

Our brief was submitted September 18, 2023. All filings on both sides regarding the petition for certiorari were submitted by October 26, 2023.  As of February 24, 2024, the case has been "distributed for conference"  8 times, meaning it is taking much longer than usual for the Supreme Court to say yes or no to hearing the case. 

Court Documents

   The docket number is 23-156, and the case comes from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Articles on the Lawsuits 

Articles on Student Surveillance Systems