Supreme Court won’t intervene to let Texas students host drag show

The Supreme Court will not intervene to let students at West Texas A&M University host a drag show while their First Amendment lawsuit against a similar show’s cancellation is on appeal.

The court on Friday denied the students’ request for emergency action so a charity drag performance set for later this month could go ahead. The students have claimed an order preventing drag events on campus violates their constitutional rights.

“This act of censorship is predicated on nothing more than the president’s personal opinion that a planned performance on campus ‘demeans,’ ‘mock[s],’ and ‘denigrates’ women,” the students said in their original motion to the Supreme Court from earlier this month.

West Texas A&M University’s president, Walter Wendler, canceled a charity drag show last year that had been organized by members of Spectrum WT, a student-led LGBTQ organization. He said drag shows are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent” and compared drag to blackface in an email to the university community.

In a lawsuit last year, university students accused Wendler, the school and its governing body of violating their First Amendment rights by blocking drag shows on campus.

A motion for a preliminary injunction and a damages claim against Wendler were dismissed by a district judge in the Lone Star State in September.

The nonprofit group representing the students in court, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), would later appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit. However, the Fifth Circuit declined to expedite the appeal.

“As a consequence, the university is poised to repeat and perpetuate its act of censorship, preventing the planned annual performance this coming March 22, 2024,” the students said in their original motion.

In a response to the students’ original motion, Wendler argued their “own conduct demonstrates why they are not entitled to the extraordinary relief they seek.”

“Applicants knew no later than last October that their appeal was not likely to be resolved in time to hold a ‘drag show’ on March 22, 2024. Yet they waited until just weeks before their proposed event to cry ‘emergency,’” Wendler’s response reads.

In a statement emailed to The Hill, FIRE attorney JT Morris said that while FIRE “is disappointed by today’s denial of an emergency injunction, we’ll keep fighting for our clients’ First Amendment rights.”

“The Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case next month,” Morris continued. “The show is not over.”

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