Federal appeals court upholds Texas campus carry law
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a prior dismissal of a lawsuit filed by three professors at the University of Texas at Austin, which aimed to block the law and allow professors to prohibit firearms in their classrooms.
*This story has been updated throughout.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld Texas' campus carry law, delivering another clear victory to the state in a longshot, long-running lawsuit brought by University of Texas at Austin professors opposed to the law.
In July 2016, three professors claimed that a 2015 state law that allows licensed gun-owners to carry concealed weapons into most public university buildings would have a “chilling effect” on free speech in their classrooms. But a federal district judge threw out their case in July 2017, saying the professors didn’t present any “concrete evidence to substantiate their fears.”
Accepting that logic and advancing it yet further, a three-judge panel on the appeals court this week rebuffed the professors’ free speech claim as well as two other constitutional challenges they had made.
Like the lower court, the 5th Circuit panel found that the professors lacked standing to challenge the law because they had not sufficiently shown how it might harm them.
“[The professors] cannot manufacture standing by self-censoring her speech based on what she alleges to be a reasonable probability that concealed-carry license holders will intimidate professors and students in the classroom,” Judge Leslie Southwick wrote for the unanimous panel.
Renea Hicks, the lawyer to professors Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter said late Thursday night it was too soon to comment on any potential plans for an appeal. But he said he does not expect to try to move the case forward at the 5th Circuit, historically a politically conservative appeals court.
“I seriously doubt there’ll be a request for rehearing or rehearing en banc at the 5th Circuit level,” Hicks said. The plaintiffs have 90 days from the ruling to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a named defendant in the lawsuit, praised Thursday’s news.
“The lawsuit was filed because the professors disagreed with the law, not because they had any legal substance to their claim,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday. “The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed for all Americans, including college students, and the 5th Circuit’s decision prevents that right from being stripped away by three individuals who oppose the law enacted by the Legislature.”
The clear, unanimous ruling overwhelmingly sided with Texas’ arguments.
In addition to the free speech claim, the professors had also lobbed a Second Amendment complaint, that the campus carry law was unconstitutional because guns on campus were not “well regulated”; and a Fourteenth Amendment complaint, that the professors were denied equal protection under the laws because there was no “rational basis” for where guns were allowed — on public campuses but not most private schools, for example.
The appeals court found both arguments unconvincing. Texas had good reasons — property rights and public safety among them — for allowing guns in some school buildings but not others, the court said. And the panel rejected the professors’ reading of the Second Amendment.
Texas’ campus carry law, passed in 2015 and effective at four-year schools in 2016, drew immediate outcry from campuses like the UT-Austin. But since it went into effect, that outrage has largely quieted down, and it has been hard to identify much impact on campus life.
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