Back in 2005, President George W. Bush appointed John Roberts as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to replace William Rehnquist.
While he has served as the Chief Justice for over 15 years now, there is one thing that he has never done in that capacity. He has never been the lone dissenter to a ruling.
That all changed last week when he dissented to a ruling on a controversial ruling against free speech.
The case centered around a student at a Georgia public college who was forbidden from sharing his faith on campus except in exceptionally limited areas. Thankfully, the Supreme Court made the right decision today in ruling that this was unconstitutional in a decisive 8-1 vote.
Sadly, Chief Justice Roberts decided to instead stand online in support of this type of religious discrimination with his sole dissenting vote. This decision has shocked and disappointed a conservative base who count on Justice Roberts to defend their religious freedoms.
Uzuegbunam et al. v. Preczewski et al. first materialized after Chike Uzuegbunam, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, was stopped by campus police for handing out religious materials on campus, a reported violation of the school’s “Freedom of Expression Policy,” which limited distributions and other expressions to free speech zones only with permission from the administration. Even after Uzuegbunam moved to the designated areas with permission, however, campus police attempted to stop him from speaking and handing out religious literature, prompting him and another student, Joseph Bradford, to take legal action against the university for violating their First and 14th Amendment rights and seek nominal damages.
The students’ attempts to sue the school, however, were shot down by both a district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit after Georgia Gwinnett College changed its “Freedom of Expression” policy to remove barriers on when and where students could speak on campus and filed a motion to dismiss the case as moot. The Supreme Court took up the case after Uzuegbunam and Bradford noted that their rights were still violated no matter what the university modified its policy to reflect and still required a ruling on nominal damages.
Justice Clarence Thomas authored the opinion of the court, agreeing with the students’ case.
“Applying this principle here is straightforward. For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him. Because ‘every violation [of a right] imports damage,’ Webb, 29 F. Cas., at 509, nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms,” Thomas concluded.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the Chief Justice has disappointed his conservative base. Many started to see his true colors when he voted in favor of then-President Obama's controversial healthcare plan. Chief Justice Roberts supported ObamaCare, but he won't support a young man using his constitutional right to free speech.