What happens if your constitutional rights are violated, you suffer no money damages, and the government promises never to do it again? The U.S. Supreme Court held today that you still have a case.
In Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, two students at Georgia Gwinnett College handing out religious literature and speaking on matters of religion were told by campus police to move to a "free speech zone" or risk disciplinary action. After the students filed suit, the college changed its policy. The college went further and sought dismissal of the claims, since the students had no claim for actual damages, and there was no longer any basis for injunctive relief. The district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit sided with the college, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, 8-1.
Following common law precedents, the Court, by Justice Thomas, held that a claim for nominal damages kept the suit alive. (Because the case involved a federal question, the $75,000 threshold for a diversity case did not apply.) Chief Justice Roberts, in an unusual lone dissent, argued that the Court's ruling may give rise to further litigation over what should be considered moot claims and requests for "advisory opinions."
The majority opinion is one of those rare alliances of the conservative and liberal planets--eight of the Justices could agree that these plaintiffs deserved to have their grievances heard, even if they won't benefit monetarily to any degree. Government actors are on notice that they can't just drop a bad policy and escape adverse rulings.
"The Court sees no problem with turning judges into advice columnists." -- Chief Justice Roberts, dissenting