When the Sixth Circuit ruled in Doe v. Baum, following up on its decision in Doe v. University of Cincinnati, the law appeared settled: The male students accused of sexual misconduct were entitled to cross-examination in Title IX sexual misconduct proceedings. Problem solved, right? So why then didn’t the University of Michigan’s president get the message?
In its desire to be a mecca of political correctness, the University of Michigan continues to prioritize the rights of some students over others.
And that does not fly in the courts, thanks to the U.S. Constitution, which demands free expression and due process for everyone.
UM’s resistance to ensuring its codes of conduct abide by that framework keep landing the university in court.
It got slapped once again by a federal judge this week.
In Doe v. University of Michigan, Judge Arthur Tarnow rejected UM’s effort to game the ruling in Baum, which UM President Mark Schlissel calls “wrong,” by creating an “interim” rule after the case was brought and then claiming the case was moot.
The university then argued that Doe’s case was moot, since it would now adjudicate his case using the Interim Policy. The district court noted, however, that voluntary cessation of unconstitutional conduct is alone insufficient to moot a claim. Rather, a claim is only moot if it is “absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.” And because the university continued to defend its old policy — among other things, the university’s president explicitly declared that “the Sixth Circuit got it wrong” in Baum — the court held that the university had “failed to meet its burden of proving that the challenged policy will not be re-enacted.” Doe’s claim, therefore, was not moot.
There is a belief that law is somehow magically self-effectuating, that if a court holds that the law requires that something be done, it will be done. After all, that’s the law. Isn’t that how law works? The UM case proves otherwise.
The judge says ignoring court rulings is a pattern with UM. He cited a 2018 free speech case brought against the university by Speech First. That lawsuit targeted UM’s bias response team, which encouraged students to spy on each and report behavior that made them feel uncomfortable. The 6th Circuit Court determined that even though the university amended its policy following the suit it had done so in a “disingenuous” manner.
The judicial branch was characterized as the “least dangerous” as its ability to compel people to comply with its orders was severely limited. It relied primarily on the acceptance of the courts as legitimate arbiter of law so that people complied because they chose to apply. Beyond that, the judiciary relies on the kindness of strangers from the executive branch, because they have the guns.
But while Michigan didn’t want to appear not to comply, it simultaneously chose not to comply because, well, it didn’t want to. It didn’t agree, as if this is a debate between peers with the Sixth Circuit (and Judge Tarnow) on one side and UM president Schlissel on the other, both sides being entitled to their own opinion and, therefore, entitled to agree to disagree and go about their lives doing what they believe to be the right thing.
It wasn’t as if Judge Tarnow could shut down University of Michigan for its failure to adhere with the rulings. It’s a huge public university, with almost 45,000 students. Should he shut down UM, deny those students an education? Should he impose Draconian sanctions, to be paid from student tuition or public monies? What possible effective solution would serve to drive home the point that UM wasn’t above the law without doing significant (and likely ineffectual) harm?
From its inception to the University’s appeal in Baum, the [University of Michigan] was in violation of Circuit precedent. Five months before publishing its 2018 Policy and likely during its drafting, the Sixth Circuit held that cross-examination was “‘essential to due process’” only where the finder of fact must choose “‘between believing an accuser and an accused,’” and implored universities to provide a means for decision makers “to evaluate an alleged victim’s credibility.” Cincinnati, 872 F.3d at 405-06. The Court of Appeals further emphasized that deciding the plaintiff’s fate without a hearing and cross-examination was a “disturbing . . . denial of due process.” Cincinnati, 872 F.3d at 402. Because the Individual Defendants violated this ruling and Plaintiff’s clearly established constitutional rights, the Court finds that they are not entitled to qualified immunity. (Emphasis added.)
Subsumed in the “et al.” portion of the caption are numerous individual defendants who either participated in the underlying conduct by UM or were decision-makers in the university’s policies. By denying them “qualified immunity,” they can potentially be held individually liable for the deprivation of constitutional rights suffered by the plaintiff. Mind you, this doesn’t mean they will, or that the school won’t pay any judgment imposed as a consequence of the case, but it theoretically exposes the individual defendants to liability.
Is this the right answer? On the one hand, the individual defendants who were integral to the due process violations, such as the Title IX coordinator and investigator, were doing what they were told to do, what their job was understood to be. They weren’t the policy makers here, and their performance of their jobs, which they may well have been more than happy to do with gusto, was as the school’s administration required of them.
On the other hand, the policy makers weren’t determined to go forth and violate constitutional rights, but were crafting policy for purposes that were, based upon their understanding and belief, supportive of the victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. What could be wrong with such benign, if not laudable, goals?
As more suits are brought, more rulings obtained, holding that campus sex tribunals involve unconstitutional deprivations of due process to accused male students, some colleges will comply, but others will simply resist, firm in their belief that they are on the right side of history and, even if courts don’t agree, are doing what they have to, what they should, do to protect women. They are, in essence, challenging the courts by saying “make me,” and the reality is that the “least dangerous branch” doesn’t have any really good magic to do so.