Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski
Description: In 2016, Georgia Gwinnett College officials stopped student Chike Uzuegbunam not once, but twice, from peacefully sharing his Christian faith with fellow students on his college campus. First, officials said he had to get advance permission to use one of two tiny speech zones that made up far less than 1% of the campus and were only open 10% of the week. Despite following these policies, Chike was again prevented from speaking. After ADF challenged the unconstitutional policies, Georgia Gwinnett argued that Chike’s speech should receive no constitutional protection, changed its policy, and claimed it should be able to avoid any penalty for violating Chike’s free speech rights. Two courts agreed, but the Supreme Court decided to hear Chike’s case and ruled in his favor.
US Supreme Court: Govt officials must be held accountable when violating constitutional rights
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court held Monday in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski that government officials must be held accountable when they violate constitutionally protected freedoms. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Chike Uzuegbunam, who was prevented from sharing his faith on campus at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college where Chike was enrolled as a student.
“The Supreme Court has rightly affirmed that government officials should be held accountable for the injuries they cause. When public officials violate constitutional rights, it causes serious harm to the victims,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “Groups representing diverse ideological viewpoints supported our clients because the threat to our constitutionally protected freedoms doesn’t stop with free speech rights or a college campus. When government officials engage in misconduct without consequences, it leaves victims without recourse, undermines the nation’s commitment to protecting constitutional rights, and emboldens the government to engage in future violations. We are pleased that the Supreme Court weighed in on the side of justice for those victims.”
In 2013, Georgia Gwinnett officials received a letter warning them that the college’s speech policies were unconstitutional, but they did nothing. Three years later, college officials silenced Uzuegbunam not once, but twice, from peacefully sharing his Christian faith with fellow students in a public area of the college’s Lawrenceville, Georgia, campus.
Two lower courts said that courts need not provide any damages for past constitutional violations unless they also caused a quantifiable, economic injury. Most federal courts would have still issued a ruling and awarded nominal damages. ADF attorneys argued that a final judicial decision is necessary to remedy past harm, prevent future misconduct, and vindicate priceless freedoms. The Supreme Court agreed.
“For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against Him,” the high court wrote in its opinion. “Because ‘every violation [of a right] imports damage…,’ nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.”
- Pronunciation guide: Chike Uzuegbunam (CHEE’-kay Oo-zah-BUN’-um), Preczewski (Preh-SHEV’-skee)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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Kristen K. Waggoner serves as general counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, Waggoner oversees the U.S. legal division, a team of 100 attorneys and staff who engage in litigation, public advocacy, and legislative support. ADF has represented the prevailing parties in multiple U.S. Supreme Court victories, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which she argued. Waggoner continues as lead counsel in Arlene's Flowers v. State of Washington, which the Supreme Court remanded to the Washington Supreme Court. She argued Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski at the high court in the 2020-21 term. She is a Peer Review Rated AV® Preeminent™ attorney in Martindale-Hubbell, who clerked for Justice Richard B. Sanders of the Washington Supreme Court after law school and served in private practice in Seattle for nearly 20 years. Waggoner is admitted to practice in multiple states, the Supreme Court, and numerous federal district and appellate courts.