Georgia Lawmaker Sues Education Department

April 22, 2016

A Georgia legislator is suing the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that the department "exceeded [its] authority" when it released the 2011 Dear Colleague letter instructing colleges on how to prevent and punish campus sexual assault.

Similar to arguments made by congressional Republicans, Earl Ehrhart, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, said that the letter serves as more than guidance and, instead, "advances new substantive rules and creates binding obligations on the affected parties" under threat of severe penalties. "The defendants exceeded their authority and violated the Administrative Procedure Act when they circumvented the requisite notice and comment rule making while nonetheless enforcing the Dear Colleague letter as binding law," the lawsuit states.

In recent months, Ehrhart, who chairs the state's appropriations subcommittee that oversees university spending, has been engaged in a battle with Georgia Tech over how it handles accusations of sexual assault and other due process concerns. Earlier this year, he denied Georgia Tech's request for a $47 million library expansion as punishment and called for the university's president to resign.

In his lawsuit, Ehrhart argues he has been injured by the Education Department's Dear Colleague letter because he is a taxpayer and has a son enrolled at Georgia Tech. Legal experts and victims' advocates this week called the argument weak, however, as Ehrhart's son has not been punished under the rules, thus the harm in the case is speculative and Ehrhart may not have standing to sue. Earlier this month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education offered to sue the department on behalf of any accused students willing to work with the organization.

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