A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 16 upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by three UT professors who challenged Senate Bill 11, the state’s campus carry law.
The law, which went into effect in August 2016, allows licensed handgun owners to carry concealed weapons into public university facilities.
English professors Mia Carter and Lisa Moore and sociology professor Jennifer Glass filed their complaint in 2016 in federal court against Attorney General Ken Paxton, UT President Gregory Fenves and the UT System Board of Regents on the grounds that campus carry infringed on their First, Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in July 2017, who concluded the “plaintiffs present no concrete evidence to substantiate their fears, but instead rest on ‘mere conjecture about possible actions.’”
The professors’ case was appealed to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans July 11, with Carter and Moore were in attendance. In an email, Carter said the professors were disappointed but not surprised by the decision in the 5th Circuit.
“It is going to be a long, difficult and complicated battle to get common sense gun laws in our country,” Carter said in an email. “We will not blithely accept the weaponization of the educational environment as the new normal.”
In an email, Glass said the professors will be discussing options with their attorneys in the next few weeks, and have not made any decisions yet about moving forward with the case.
Law professor Jeffrey Abramson said the 5th Circuit relied on a procedural requirement known as standing, which requires anyone suing in federal court to show they being personally injured by the law. The Court ruled that if the professors stifled their views, this was a self-inflicted injury and not one the law itself created.
“The Court says the law isn’t doing the censoring,” Abramson said. “(The professors) are going to self-censor out of some fear. (The Court is) saying that’s a self-inflicted injury and not an injury necessarily caused by the law.”
The Court ruled that the professors had not demonstrated the kind of personal injury that would give them standing to challenge campus carry, Abramson said.
Paxton commended the court’s decision to uphold the dismissal.
“The lawsuit was filed because the professors disagreed with the law, not because they had any legal substance to their claim,” Paxton said in a statement. “The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed for all Americans, including college students, and the 5th Circuit’s decision prevents that right from being stripped away by three individuals who oppose the law enacted by the Legislature.”
Matthew Valentine, Plan II lecturer and participant in Gun Free UT events said there are examples where professors have changed their curriculum based on the campus carry law, such as at the University of Houston. According to the Houston Chronicle, a UH faculty group gave out a set of recommendations on how to teach under campus carry that said faculty may want to “be careful discussing sensitive topics” or “drop certain topics from your curriculum.”
“It’s not just that these three faculty at The University of Texas have this unique notion that they need to censor themselves for the sake of safety,” Valentine said. “There is plenty of evidence that that is happening; people are censoring themselves. Faculty are changing their curriculum.”
Abramson said the professors can decide to appeal the decision to the entire 5th Circuit, or they could eventually appeal to the Supreme Court. However, he said based on the past rulings in their case, their chances would not be good.
“They face an uphill battle,” Abramson said.