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Taylor Swift sexual assault verdict discussed at Supreme Court

Taylor Swift sexual assault verdict discussed at Supreme Court
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During Supreme Court oral arguments Tuesday in a dispute over campus speech rights, justices cited a 2017 jury verdict that awarded pop star Taylor SwiftTaylor Alison SwiftTaylor Swift sexual assault verdict discussed at Supreme Court 2020's top political celebrity moments Obama jokes about birther conspiracy: 'I was able to get away with' not being born in US MORE’s demand to be paid $1 by a man who was found liable for groping her.

The reference to Swift’s sexual assault case arose as the court wrestled with the legal significance of a college student’s request for a minuscule payout from his college for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights. 

Both Swift and the college student, Chike Uzuegbunam, demanded only pittances from defendants in their disputes — a legal concept known as “nominal damages.” At issue in the student’s case is whether his lawsuit should survive in light of both his college having lifted its offending speech restrictions, and the small amount of money requested. 

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Justice Elena KaganElena KaganLIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing Sotomayor dissents to latest federal execution, calling it 'justice on the fly' Supreme Court rules Trump administration can enforce rule requiring abortion pills be obtained in person MORE called Swift’s case “the most famous nominal damages case I know of in recent times.”

Addressing a lawyer for Georgia Gwinnett College, Kagan suggested the $1 that the pop singer demanded, while small in financial terms, carried potent symbolic value — and asked if the same principle applied in Uzuegbunam's case.

“A few years ago, [Swift] brought a suit against a radio host for sexually assaulting her, and she said, I'm not really interested in your money, I just want $1. And that dollar is going to represent something both to me and to the world of women who have experienced what I've experienced,” Kagan said.

“That's what happened: The jury gave her $1,” she continued. “And it was an unquestionable physical harm. But she just asked for this $1 to say that she had been harmed. Why not?”

Georgia’s Solicitor General Andrew Pinson, who argued the case for the state college, told the justices that the student’s nominal damages claim is not legally significant enough to keep the case alive after the school relaxed its speech policy. In effect, the school argued, Uzuegbunam no longer has the kind of injury that must be present for a court to step in.

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The Department of Justice argued on the student's behalf Tuesday, telling the justices that the small amount of money Uzuegbunam is seeking should not disqualify his legal challenge.

Uzuegbunam brought his suit against Georgia Gwinnett College after school officials in 2016 repeatedly ordered him to refrain from professing his Christian faith on campus grounds, claiming that he had failed to comply in various ways with the school’s particularly harsh speech code.

After the lawsuit was filed, the school relaxed its policy in 2017 and asked the district court judge to dismiss the case as moot, which it granted. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the lower court ruling, prompting Uzuegbunam’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

A decision in the case, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, is expected by late June.