Partner Michael Lockerby has authored an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a college student who alleges his First Amendment rights were violated when he was prevented from speaking about his Christian faith and distributing religious literature on his college campus.
Lockerby authored the brief on behalf of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization that defends individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated and educates the public about threats to their freedom.
The case was brought by Chike Uzuegbunam, a onetime student at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Ga. His faith requires that he share his religious belief with others.
In 2016, Uzuegbunam was passing out literature and talking to students in a plaza near the college library when he was stopped and warned by a campus security officer that he needed to move to one of two “speech zones” the college had established. Students were required to reserve a time for one of the speech zones, which consisted of a sidewalk and a patio. Students also were required to apply for a reservation to use one of the zones at least three days in advance.
Although Uzuegbunam reserved a time to speak in one of the zones, he was again stopped by a campus security officer, who told him that someone had complained about him and that he was engaging in “disorderly conduct.”
Uzuegbunam then sued the school, alleging that its policies violated the First Amendment. After months of litigation, the school moved to dismiss the case as “moot” because it had changed its speech zone policies. The judge granted the school’s motion.
Uzuegbunam appealed, arguing that his case was not moot because he was entitled to nominal damages for the school’s interference in his First Amendment rights. But an appeals court upheld the dismissal. Uzuegbunam then sought and was granted review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In his brief, Lockerby argues that the dismissal of Uzuegbunam’s lawsuit violates long-established court precedent affirming the right of citizens to obtain an award of nominal damages against government officials who violate a person’s constitutional rights. “This court’s precedents leave no doubt that nominal damage awards are permissible and indeed mandatory to vindicate deprivations of constitutional rights even in the absence of otherwise compensable harm,” he wrote.