A student at Georgia Gwinnett College was stopped by campus police for proselytizing on campus, apparently because he had not reserved a spot in a designated “free speech zone.” He and a fellow student sued several college officials, asking for an injunction prohibiting the school from enforcing its speech-zone policy. They also requested nominal damages—a small amount of money awarded by a court to acknowledge that a person’s rights were violated.
After the lawsuit was filed, the college changed its policy, meaning that the students’ request for an injunction was “moot” and could not go forward. But the college officials argued that the changed policy rendered the entire case moot, including the students’ claim for nominal damages.
A federal district court agreed with the college and dismissed the case, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case. We joined an amicus brief arguing that nominal-damages claims should prevent civil-rights cases from becoming moot when an unconstitutional policy is changed. Nominal-damages claims are an important tool for holding the government accountable for its past unconstitutional actions and recognizing that those actions cause real injury, even if it is not measurable financially.
In March 2021, the Court agreed with us, holding that the students’ nominal-damages claim was not mooted when the college changed its policy.