Federal Judge Denies States’ Bid to Block New Title IX Sexual Assault Rules

August 12, 2020 Updated: August 13, 2020

A federal judge denied an attempt by a coalition of states to block new Education Department regulations under Title IX that provides guidance on handling allegations of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses and K–12 schools.

Judge Carl John Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 12 denied a request by 18 attorneys general to stop the rule from going into effect on Aug, 14, while the court considers whether to strike down the rule.

The new Title IX rule was issued in May and aims to protect survivors of sexual misconduct while providing a framework for a more reliable adjudication process to respond to claims of sexual assault incidents.

The rule will hold schools accountable for failure to respond equitably and promptly to sexual misconduct incidents and provide an adjudication process, backed by the force of law, to ensure that all parties are treated fairly and equally, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said.

It aims to also address the ongoing issue of schools and colleges either protecting survivors, while ignoring due process, or protecting the accused, while disregarding sexual misconduct.

Following the rule’s issuance, 17 states and the District of Columbia, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, challenged the rule, alleging that it weakens protections for victims of sexual misconduct and creates inequitable disciplinary proceedings.

They say the Education Department exceeded its authority when promulgating the rule, claiming that it “unlawfully [narrows] Title IX’s reach, making it harder for students to report, and for schools to respond, to sexual harassment.”

“We cannot turn classrooms into courtrooms, and we cannot allow our country to take such a backward step in the fight for justice. We are asking the court to stop this rule from going into effect and take this unlawful burden off the shoulders of schools across the nation,” Shapiro said in a statement at the time.

The judge, Nichols, denied the states’ request, saying that the attorneys general failed to establish a likelihood of success on their claims and show that they would likely suffer substantial irreparable harm pending the court’s review of the case.

This comes after a federal judge in New York in a separate case on Aug. 9 declined to block the same rule from going into effect in New York while the case plays out. In that case, the judge said New York officials failed to show that they are likely to prevail on their argument that the Trump administration was acting “arbitrarily and capriciously” when issuing the rule.

DeVos welcomed Nichols’ ruling in a statement on Aug. 12, touting the ruling as a “victory for students” that reaffirms “students’ rights under Title IX go hand in hand with basic American principles of fairness and due process.”

“With yet another failed attempt to block our historic Title IX Rule, we can now look forward to it taking effect this Friday, requiring schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct without sacrificing important safeguards to protect free speech and provide all students with a transparent, reliable process,” she said.

“We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation’s schools, and today’s ruling will help ensure that happens.”

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