Reports on our current work

The AAUP in the Courts

The legal office works with experts from around the country in submitting friend-of-the-court briefs in key appellate cases, seeking to shape the law in ways supportive of Association principles.

Recent Amicus Briefs & Rulings

Sanctuary Cities:  San Francisco v. Trump

The AAUP joined with other groups, including members of the California Community College System, in filing an amicus brief in support of a permanent injunction against a Trump administration executive order that sought to strip federal funding from “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The lawsuit resulting in the injunction was filed by the city of San Francisco. The AAUP’s interest in the case stems from the potential application of the executive order to colleges and universities. Such an extension would negatively impact colleges’ and universities’ ability to carry out their public mission and their interests in developing a diverse student body. Allowing the executive order to stand would also set a dangerous precedent for the proposition that the president may unilaterally use the threat of withholding federal funding in a broad and punitive manner as part of an effort to coerce colleges and universities to participate in federal immigration enforcement. Joining this amicus brief enables the AAUP to participate in a precedent-setting case on issues of great national significance that affect the ability of universities to develop and support a diverse student body, regardless of students’ immigration status. Read the brief here.


Harvard & Affirmative Action

The AAUP joined with the American Council on Education and thirty-five other higher education associations in filing an amicus brief in federal court opposing a challenge to race-based admissions at Harvard University. We argue that “a diverse student body is essential to educational objectives of colleges and universities, and that each institution should be able to exercise its academic judgment to determine within broad limits the diversity that will advance its own particular mission.”

The case, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard, asks the court to prevent Harvard and other colleges and universities from using race as part of their admission criteria for students. The plaintiff is an organization created by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum. It alleges that Harvard’s admissions process holds Asian-American applicants to a higher standard and argues that Harvard engages in “racial balancing” when it could use race-neutral alternatives.

For many years, the AAUP has taken a leadership role in affirmative action debates by emphasizing the educational value of diversity.  In 2016, we joined in an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (another case initiated by Blum) that argued that consideration of race in the admissions process is appropriate and advanced the AAUP’s long-standing view that diversity is essential not only for students but for the entire academic enterprise. The Supreme Court affirmed the use of race in admissions in that case. Read the full brief here.

John McAdams v. Marquette University

In one of the best decisions on academic freedom in decades, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, citing AAUP policies and an amicus brief filed by the AAUP, ruled that Marquette University wrongly disciplined Dr. John McAdams for comments he made on his personal blog in 2014. Dr. McAdams criticized a graduate teaching instructor by name for her refusal to allow a student to debate gay rights because “everybody agrees on this.” The blog was publicized in the national press, and the instructor received numerous harassing communications from third parties.  Marquette suspended Dr. McAdams, and demanded an apology as a condition of reinstatement. Relying heavily on AAUP’s standards and principles on academic freedom, as detailed in AAUP’s amicus brief, the court held that “the University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom.”  Therefore, the court reversed and remanded this case with instructions that the lower court enter judgment in favor of Dr. McAdams and determine damages, and it ordered Marquette to immediately reinstate Dr. McAdams with unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation, and benefits. Read the brief here.

Teresa Buchanan & Louisiana State

The AAUP filed an amicus brief that argues that the termination of Professor Theresa Buchanan from Louisiana State University, for making statements in the classroom that the university improperly characterized as sexual harassment, violated her academic freedom. The brief explains that sexual harassment policies, particularly those focused on speech, must be narrowly drawn and sufficiently precise to ensure that their provisions do not infringe on First Amendment rights of free speech and academic freedom. AAUP argues that the university’s policies, and their application to the facts, failed this test and thus violated Professor Buchanan’s academic freedom. Read the full brief here.




Donate to the AAUP Foundation's Legal Defense Fund

Support the AAUP's Legal Work

Through its Legal Defense Fund, the AAUP Foundation supports faculty members in cases at the trial and appellate levels that implicate important legal rights, involve legal issues of national significance in higher education, and affect the careers of academics.

Additional resources

Want more information on our legal work?