A new ruling just came down from a Federal district court in North Carolina that mooted a case because the university changed its policy while the case was still pending. And because the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the case of Alpha Iota Omega Christian Fraternity v. Moeser were from the ADF, I am anticipating that the DI and their fellow travelers will at some point use this to argue that the Dover case could also be mooted. So before they even head down that road, let me cut them off at the pass: this ruling is entirely different from Dover and does not support the argument for mootness in that case.
The Moeser case involved the University of North Carolina’s non-discrimination policy. They had a policy that said that no official student organizations could discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation and a Christian fraternity filed suit, arguing that this violates their right to expressive association. The fraternity is correct and the judge in the case issued a preliminary injunction against the university, sending the clear message that they were likely to lose the case. The university then decided to rewrite their policies and granted official recognition to the fraternity.
At that point, the university filed a motion to dismiss due to mootness and the judge just ruled in favor of that motion. That’s the ruling linked to above. But there are several crucial differences between this case and the Dover case and those differences are highly dispositive on the question of whether that case could have been mooted. Those differences are:
A. There was no request for nominal damages in the UNC case. Indeed, the judge’s ruling specifically notes that fact because, if it had been otherwise, it would have demanded a ruling on the merits.
B. No trial had taken place in the case. The judge had issued a preliminary injunction against the university, but the actual trial had not taken place on the merits of the case yet. In Dover, the trial was over and a ruling was a mere few days away.
C. There was far less chance of the new policy being reversed, for several reasons. First, because university administrations do not change every year (or two years) the way school boards do. Second, because the judge’s injunction clearly told the university that if they reversed themselves, they’d get hauled into court and almost certainly lose. On that question, the court ruled:
Although there is a remote possibility that Defendants could be acting in bad faith and could, as soon as the lawsuit is ended, change all of the forms and websites back to the 2003 Policy and revoke AIO’s official recognition, the court believes that such a development is unlikely and that Defendants can and should be trusted to abide by the 2005 Policy. Defendants have met their burden of persuasion and this case must be dismissed.
Notice that the burden of proof was placed squarely on those arguing for mootness, not on the plaintiffs, but that burden was met because of the facts listed above. In the Dover case, the arguments for mootness were far more difficult to make because the facts were significantly different and less amenable to mootness. So let’s not hear Francisco, Manzari or Cooper trying to use this as support for their position; it clearly does not support that position.