WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday wrestled with whether to revive a lawsuit brought by a Georgia college student who sued school officials after being prevented from distributing Christian literature on campus.
The school, Georgia Gwinnett College, has since changed its policies and the student has graduated. A lower court dismissed the case as moot and an appeals court agreed, but the student, Chike Uzuegbunam, is urging the justices to allow the case to move forward. He's seeking just $1 and says he wants the Lawrenceville, Georgia, school to be held accountable for its past policies.
Groups across the political spectrum including the ACLU say the case is important to ensuring that people whose constitutional rights were violated can continue their cases even when governments repeal the policies they were challenging.
During arguments the justices heard by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic, both conservative and liberal justices expressed some concerns with Uzuegbunam's argument. Chief Justice John Roberts suggested to Uzuegbunam's attorney, Kristen Waggoner of the group Alliance Defending Freedom, that it was problematic that "the only redress you're asking for is a declaration that you're right." And Justice Elena Kagan noted that "people can't bring a suit for pure vindication alone for the psychic satisfaction that it gives to hear a court say that."
Kagan, however, also brought up what she said was the most famous case she could think of where someone had sought a symbolic $1 in a lawsuit. In that case, former radio DJ David Mueller sued singer-songwriter Taylor Swift after she accused him of groping her, saying he was falsely accused and lost his job as a result of the allegation. She countersued for $1 alleging sexual assault.
"That's what happened. The jury gave her $1," Kagan said, later adding: "Why isn't that the same as this? The petitioner here says he was harmed. He wasn't able to speak when he should have been able to speak. He's just asking for $1 to redress that harm."