Federal judge refuses to block campus sexual assault rules

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for an event in the State Dining room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. A federal judge on Wednesday allowed the Education Department to move forward with new rules governing how schools and universities respond to complaints of sexual assault. DeVos said the ruling is yet another victory for students and reaffirms that students rights under Title IX go hand in hand with basic American principles of fairness and due process. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for an event in the State Dining room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. A federal judge on Wednesday allowed the Education Department to move forward with new rules governing how schools and universities respond to complaints of sexual assault. DeVos said the ruling is yet another victory for students and reaffirms that students rights under Title IX go hand in hand with basic American principles of fairness and due process. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Wednesday allowed the Education Department to move forward with new rules governing how schools and universities respond to complaints of sexual assault.

The rules, which take effect Friday, expand the rights of the accused, narrow the definition of sexual harassment and reduce the scope of cases that schools are required to investigate, among other changes.

In a suit challenging the rules, attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia argued that the policy would block schools from investigating certain sexual abuse complaints and would discourage students from reporting assaults.

“As a result, fewer sexual harassment complaints will be filed, and schools will be less well equipped to protect their students’ safety and rid their programs and activities of the pernicious effects of sex discrimination,” the suit said.

But U.S. District Judge Carl. J. Nichols rejected those arguments.

“Plaintiffs are free to investigate and punish as violations of their codes of conduct or of state law behavior that does not meet the new definition of sexual harassment under the Final Rule,” Nichols wrote.

He also turned aside an argument that the rules would bring heavy costs for schools and limit their ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Court recognizes the obvious seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic," he wrote. “In fact, for these and other reasons, a later effective date might have been a preferable policy decision.”