The Department of Justice has filed a statement of interest backing Young America's Foundation in their free speech lawsuit against UC Berkeley. The lawsuit was filed late last year after the university repeatedly forced conservative students to pay extreme security fees to host speakers or face cancellation of their events. The university has special requirements and hurdles for conservative speakers that are not required for those who espouse leftist ideology.
“This Department of Justice will not stand by idly while public universities violate students’ constitutional rights,” Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand said about the statement of interest.
The plaintiffs, Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) and Young America’s Foundation (YAF), allege that the University of California, Berkeley,enforced a double standard when applied to free speech. BCR alleges that UC Berkeley applied a more rigorous and highly discretionary set of rules to their organization compared to other campus groups, especially with respect to“high-profile” campus speakers.
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit as a result of excessive hurdles BCR faced in bringing speakers of their choice onto campus. They allege that UC Berkeley’s High Profile Speaker Policy and Major Events Policy violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that Berkeley’s “High-Profile Speaker Policy” granted administrators unfettered discretion to decide which speakers are subject to arduous curfews, prohibitive security costs, or undesirable venues. In one instance, administrators—who had full discretion to determine who constituted a “high-profile speaker”—established a 3:00 pm “curfew” that conflicted with class times.
While the plaintiffs attempted to book speakers under the restrictions of the “High-Profile Speaker Policy,” a former president of Mexico and a former White House adviser were hosted at the University, but University administrators did not apply the High-Profile Speakers Policy to those events.
"The US Department of Justice rightly recognizes that there are serious problems at UC Berkeley, and this is a reminder from the DOJ to UC Berkeley that it still has a lot to learn about the First Amendment," YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown released in a statement. "It's incredible to see the United States government reinforcing in its SOI what YAF has said for months: Berkeley's high-profile speaker policy and major events policy are 'prior restraints on protected speech that invite viewpoint discrimination.'"
“Having pursued these core speech rights on behalf of our clients for nearly nine months against the University’s shifting positions and excuses, it is gratifying to see both the Department of Justice and General Counsel of the Department of Education agree with our position in court that strict scrutiny must apply to the University’s speech codes, which in turn constitute a prior restraint on fundamental rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” YAF and BCR attorney Harmeet K. Dhillon added.
YAF continues to host conservative speakers on campuses across the country.
Editor's note: The author of this piece is a regular speaker on college campuses through Young America's Foundation.