High Court Bars Student Suit; Says Terms for Grant Money Are No Civil Rights guarantee.(NATION)
Byline: Frank J. Murray, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Supreme Court yesterday barred individual civil rights suits based on laws in which Congress attaches conditions to federal grant money.
The 7-2 decision overturned Ru Paster's $450,000 judgment against Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., for releasing damaging personal information to the state education department. Mr. Paster claimed the school violated his rights under a 1974 privacy law.
"If Congress wishes to create new rights enforceable under Section 1983 [of civil rights law], it must do so in clear and unambiguous terms," the court said.
The ruling, which blocks such lawsuits in state or federal courts against government-funded programs, specifically excluded Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act ,which forbids racial discrimination, and the 1972 Title IX law, which bans sex discrimination by schools.
"Where the text and structure of a statute provide no indication that Congress intends to create new individual rights, there is no basis for a private suit, whether under Section 1983 or under an implied right of action," said Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's written opinion.
Joining that view were Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
Justices Stephen G. Breyer and David H. Souter also agreed with the outcome, but confined their reasoning to congressional intent in enacting the "school record privacy" aspects of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the decision created a second tier of rights and wrote a dissent arguing that "the court's novel attempt to craft a new category of second-class statutory rights is misguided."
Yesterday's decision ends a lawsuit by an alumnus of the private university who said his rights were violated when the Jesuit school withheld the certificate of good moral character required to obtain a Washington state teaching license after investigating what he called false sexual misconduct accusations by another student.
Among other things, the 1974 law allows federal funds to be withheld from schools that have a "policy or practice" of releasing private information about grades, discipline or other personal data without the consent of adult students or by parents of minors.
Yesterday's ruling reverses a Washington state Supreme Court order upholding a total jury award to Mr. Paster of $1.15 million dollars.
The chief justice said the opinion resolved ambiguities in several of its previous opinions but named only one, the 1997 Blessing v. …