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.”