Texan Students Ask Supreme Court to Block Drag Ban on Their Campus

An LGBTQ+ student group is asking the Supreme Court for an emergency injunction that would allow a planned charity drag ball to go forward, the latest salvo in a pitched legal battle that began nearly one year ago.

Lawyers for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) filed the application on March 4, representing members of Spectrum WT, the official LGBTQ+ student group of West Texas A&M University. WTAMU President Walter Wendler announced a blanket ban on all drag shows on campus, comparing the art form (falsely) to blackface in a Biblically-themed email last March that concluded a “harmless” drag show was “not possible.” Spectrum WT, which had planned to host a drag ball on campus to benefit suicide prevention nonprofit The Trevor Project, filed suit against the university that month, but were rebuffed in September by far-right district judge Matthew Kacsmaryk.

Lawyers for Spectrum WT argue in this week’s filing that Kacsmaryk wrongly interpreted numerous First Amendment cases to deny the students relief. While their appeal of that decision grinds forward in the Fifth Circuit, the plaintiffs are asking for the Supreme Court to step in and finally issue an injunction to allow the students’ next charity ball, currently scheduled for March 22, to be held on campus as planned.

“For nearly a year, Plaintiffs and their fellow students have lived under a prior restraint imposing President Wendler’s preferred values over campus expression,” the filing alleges. “Swift intervention to enjoin that prior restraint and restore the First Amendment to campus cannot come soon enough.”

In a press release announcing the filing this week, FIRE representatives called Wendler’s ban “intolerable” and again urged the Court to take action.

“With Spectrum WT’s next show only weeks away, our clients and free expression at West Texas A&M need the courts’ immediate intervention,” the organization wrote. “The district and appeals courts declined to rule in time to ensure the students can take the campus stage […] we’re asking the Supreme Court to step in and put an end to the censorship that has muzzled protected expression at West Texas A&M for far too long.”

Should the Court decline to weigh in, Spectrum WT’s event may still go ahead, but not on campus. Last year’s show took refuge in nearby Sam Houston Park, following a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $8,000 to relocate the event.

Last November, the Supreme Court denied Florida officials’ request to resume enforcing a statewide drag ban, but avoided First Amendment arguments, deeming the case an “imperfect vehicle” for adjudicating those questions. Lower courts have overturned or issued injunctions against other states’ drag bans in the past year, including bans in Montana and Tennessee. But those precedents still haven’t stopped Republicans in other states from considering new drag bans in 2024, with one such bill currently moving through the Missouri House.

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