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University of Michigan Sued Over ‘Speech Code’

May 9, 2018, 2:46 PM

The University of Michigan’s disciplinary code violates the First Amendment, according to a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan May 8.

The code deters many students from “speaking at all, especially on controversial topics,” Speech First, which filed the complaint, alleges. Speech First is a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect students’ speech rights.

Millions of students across the country are subject to similarly problematic “speech codes,” Nicole Neilly, the group’s president, told Bloomberg Law by telephone May 8.

The Trump Administration has placed an emphasis on campus speech rights.

The University of Michigan prohibits harassment and bullying, and the code “increases the penalties if such actions are motivated by ‘bias,’” Speech First said in a press release sent to Bloomberg Law.

The code here “can capture staggering amounts of protected speech and expression” that put students at the mercy of the school’s “Bias Response Team,” which investigates code violations and punishes students, the complaint alleges.

Speech First argues that the team and its definition of “bias” are “unconstitutional under the doctrines of overbreadth, vagueness and prior restraints.”

A spokesperson for the university declined to comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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