Equality Under the Law Toolbox

Case Name: Speech First, Inc. v. Timothy L. Killeen et al

Type of Case: Free Speech; Bias Response Team

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

Case Number: 19-2807

Filed On: November 5, 2019

Current Status: Seventh Circuit agreed with the lower court’s ruling in denying a motion for preliminary injunction stating that Speech First did not demonstrate standing to pursue its claims.

This case originated in Illinois, and was a challenge to various policies of the University of Illinois that stifled speech including the use of a “bias response team” on campus. The heart of this case is whether an official university task force dedicated to monitoring, investigating, recording, and reporting incidents of allegedly “biased” speech has a sufficient chilling effect on protected speech to support standing for a First Amendment challenge.

The district court held that students subject to this surveillance program cannot challenge it because “being reported to [this task force] results in essentially no consequences.”

WILL filed an amicus brief in this case for three reasons: first, to call this Court’s attention to an analogous line of cases recognizing that surveillance of a protected activity by a direct authority opposed to that activity is inherently coercive; second, to note two recent examples showing that students have good reason to fear retaliation from a team of university officials dedicated to monitoring speech they oppose; and third, to show the prevalence of bias response teams in Wisconsin.