The Corner

Law & the Courts

Here’s What Defenders of Campus Kangaroo Courts Won’t Tell You

It’s Betsy DeVos day here at NR. I’ve got a piece up on the homepage detailing how critics of campus due process rely on junk science and sometimes even sheer malice to prop up failed Obama-era policies, and our editors have expressed their own support for reforming campus Title IX prosecutions. But as you read these pieces and weigh them against the #StopBetsy invective  across the web, consider one more thing — state and federal courts are making change inevitable. Universities are losing due process cases from coast to coast.

I’d urge you to read my friend KC Johnson’s excellent, extended piece over at Commentary. It begins: 

In late August, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett blocked Miami University from suspending a student the school had found guilty of sexual assault. The student claimed that his due-process rights had been violated by Miami University’s fact-finding process. This process had featured a proceeding in which all the witnesses corroborating the accuser’s claims had refused to appear—and at its conclusion the chair of Miami’s disciplinary panel simply accepted their unverified statements as “true.” When the case reached federal court, university lawyers argued that cross-examination of the absent witnesses was irrelevant because the accused student was allowed to say that he disagreed with their claims. The university, Barrett responded, misunderstood the importance of cross-examination for assessing witness credibility. Miami’s “claim that no amount of cross-examination could have changed the minds of the hearing panel members,” the judge concluded, “arguably undercuts the fairness of the hearing.” The “arguably” was a nice touch.

Barrett’s decision marked the 59th judicial setback for a college or university since 2013 in a due-process lawsuit brought by a student accused of sexual assault. (In four additional cases, the school settled a lawsuit before any judicial decision occurred.) This body of law serves as a towering rebuke to the Obama administration’s reinterpretation of Title IX, the 1972 law barring sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

Obama administration activists and campus ideologues have imposed procedures that revolt judges across the ideological spectrum. Change isn’t optional. It’s mandatory. Federal government policies are driving universities to violate the civil liberties of their students, and it’s legally unsustainable. Here’s Johnson again:

The process began in May 2013, in a ruling against St. Joseph’s University, and has lately accelerated (15 rulings in 2016 and 21 thus far in 2017). Of the 40 setbacks for colleges in federal court, 14 came from judges nominated by Barack Obama, 11 from Clinton nominees, and nine from selections of George W. Bush. Brown University has been on the losing side of three decisions; Duke, Cornell, and Penn State, two each.

As Johnson notes, the universities don’t always lose, but even when they prevail, they often prevail in the face of deep judicial misgivings about university processes. Moreover, these cases are brought against the backdrop of a very particular judicial bias. As a litigator who’s sued a number of universities on constitutional grounds, I can tell you that federal judges do not want their courts to become glorified student disciplinary boards. Yet the facts are often so egregious — and the constitutional violations so plain — that they often have no choice.

So the next time a campus ideologue says reformers are on the side of “rapists,” remember that their preferred procedures are too radical even for President Obama’s judges. One way or another, their kangaroo courts will come to an end. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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