The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that Speech First, an organization devoted to promoting free speech and other civil rights on U.S. college campuses, did not have standing to challenge Virginia Tech on its bias-incident policies.
In Speech First v. Sands, et al., the organization took issue specifically with Virginia Tech’s Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT), to which students can be reported for any “expression made against a person or group” that the university deems motivated by bias, and the Informational Activities Policy, which regulates the solicitation of signatures and the distribution of informational literature on campus.
Speech First initially sued Virginia Tech in April 2021, alleging that those and other policies violated students’ First Amendment rights and limited free speech.
The District Court granted a partial injunction, agreeing that Virginia Tech’s computer use policy, which prohibits users on the university network from promoting “intimidation, harassment and unwarranted annoyance,” was too vague to be enforced and likely violated the First Amendment. Otherwise, the court denied preliminary relief.
In January 2022, Speech First appealed the ruling on the BIRT and Informational Activities policies. The Appeals Court ruled 2 to 1 to affirm the lower court’s ruling that Speech First had no standing, in part because “its members had suffered no injury in fact.”