SCOTUS declines to hear case over drag show at Texas university

SCOTUS justices in 2022. (Photo by Fred Schilling of the U.S. Supreme Court)

The U.S. Supreme Court on March 15 declined to hear a First Amendment case over a public university president’s refusal to allow an LGBTQ+ student group to host a drag show on campus.

The group’s application was denied without the justices providing their reasoning or issuing dissenting opinions, as is custom for such requests for emergency review.

When plaintiffs sought to organize the drag performance to raise money for suicide prevention in March 2023, West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler cancelled the event, citing the Bible and other religious texts.

The students sued, arguing the move constituted prior restraint and viewpoint-based discrimination, in violation of the First Amendment. Wendler had called drag shows “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny,” adding that “a harmless drag show” was “not possible.”

The notoriously conservative Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who former President Donald Trump appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ruled against the plaintiffs in September, writing that “it is not clearly established that all drag shows are inherently expressive.”

Kacsmaryk further argued that the High Court’s precedent-setting opinions protecting stage performances and establishing that “speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend” was inconsistent with constitutional interpretation based on “text, history and tradition.”

Plaintiffs appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is by far the most conservative of the nation’s 12 appellate circuit courts. They sought emergency review by the Supreme Court because the 5th Circuit refused to fast-track their case, so arguments were scheduled to begin after the date of their drag show.

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