U.S. Supreme Court

Drag show ban at Texas university left intact by Supreme Court

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Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court. (File photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to let a student group host a charity drag show at a public university in Texas, siding with a school official who banned the performance as “derisive, divisive and demoralizing.”

In a one-sentence order that didn’t note any dissents, the high court turned away a request from an LGBTQ-rights group that said West Texas A&M University and its president violated the Constitution’s free speech clause by barring the planned March 22 show from taking place on campus.

As is its usual practice with its emergency docket, the court didn’t explain its decision. The order comes amid a wave of controversies about speech rights on college campuses around the country.

The group, Spectrum WT, sued after West Texas A&M President Walter Wendler barred the show last year. In a letter to the university community, Wendler said drag shows denigrate women, likening them to “blackface” minstrel shows.

Spectrum WT told the Supreme Court that Wendler’s ban was emblematic of a nationwide problem, exacerbated by campus discord over the Israel-Hamas conflict, abortion and other divisive issues.

“Public university and college officials nationwide from across the political spectrum are appointing themselves censors-in-chief, separating what they consider ‘good’ from ‘bad’ expression on their campuses,” the group argued.

Texas officials including Attorney General Ken Paxton told the justices the order doesn’t preclude the group from holding the show off-campus, as it did last year.

“They simply may not use the university’s resources to put on a ‘drag show’ that the president has determined could be demeaning to others who must live, work, and learn on the same campus,” the state officials said in court papers.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled against the group in September, refusing to issue an injunction against Wendler and other officials at the Canyon, Texas, university. Spectrum WT is appealing Kacsmaryk’s ruling, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to issue an emergency order to allow the March 22 show, prompting the group to turn to the Supreme Court.

The case is Spectrum WT v. Wendler, 23A820.

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