Canning Spam

Supreme Court lets stand ruling favoring public university's policy on blocking unsolicited e-mail messages.
January 10, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a federal appeals court's ruling that gave the University of Texas at Austin the right to block unwanted e-mail from reaching its users' accounts. The decision not to hear the case, White Buffalo Ventures v. University of Texas at Austin, ends it and means that the university can maintain its policy.

White Buffalo, which owns an online dating service known as and dozens of comparable services targeted at other colleges, had sued in 2003 in state court after the university blocked e-mails that the company had begun sending to the e-mail accounts of UT's students, citing an internal policy that blocks the sending of spam.

The case was moved to federal court, where White Buffalo argued that the university's policy violated the First Amendment and were preempted by a federal anti-spamming law known as the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketings Act of 2003.

A district court sided with the university, and in August, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed. It rejected White Buffalo’s argument that the university had no right to enforce its own anti-spam rules because Congress had passed the CAN-SPAM Act. The appeals court found that exemptions in that law allow public colleges and other entities to have their own anti-spam policies.

The appeals panel also rebuffed White Buffalo's First Amendment arguments, although less uniformly. The court agreed that the university could justify its policy in the interest of protecting the individuals who use its e-mail system. But it rejected Texas' argument that the policy was necessary to keep its servers running efficiently, saying: ” ‘Suffer the servers’ is among the most chronically over-used and under-substantiated interests asserted by parties (both government and private ones) involved in Internet litigation.”

Sean Jordan, an assistant solicitor general for the State of Texas who represented the University of Texas before the Fifth Circuit and wrote the Supreme Court brief, said state officials were pleased with "the court's decision to wisely uphold the very sound decisions" by the two lower courts, and to set them as precedents for the Fifth Circuit, which includes Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Also Monday, the high court declined to hear another case in which two former employees at the University of Louisiana at Monroe had accused the Board of Regents of the University of Louisiana System of engaging in age discrimination by adopting a policy that barred the rehiring of retired employees. By letting stand a January 2005 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the Supreme Court ends a nearly 10-year legal fight -- carried out in both state and federal courts -- that has been filled with procedural twists and turns.


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