Supreme Court Rejects UNC Appeal On Sex Assault Discipline

Jan 11, 2021

Credit Brian Batista / For WUNC

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of a lower court decision requiring it to release disciplinary records of students who violated the school’s sexual assault policies.

The court issued a two-sentence decision without additional comment, listed among a host of orders.

Last May, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the flagship school of the UNC system had to release the records. The school had been sued by a media coalition including Capitol Broadcasting Co. and the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. In September 2016, the group requested documents under the North Carolina Public Records Act. The university denied the request, arguing that the records were protected by the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, which shields academic records from public disclosure.

School officials argued for years that they exercised discretion granted by the federal act to protect victims and the confidentiality of the Title IX process. Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Michael Morgan concluded that UNC-Chapel Hill officials do not have that discretion in light of the state law requiring release of the records.

“Over my legal career I have learned that it is unwise either to gloat about a victory or despair about a defeat, but obviously it’s gratifying to prevail in a long, hard fight against dogged and worthy opponents," said Raleigh attorney Hugh Stevens.

The former general counsel for the North Carolina Press Association spoke in an interview with WRAL, adding, "I am especially grateful that the result in this case upholds North Carolina’s long-established policy that public records are the property of the people, not government officials.”

School officials didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.