Campus moves to dismiss First Amendment lawsuit

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Daniel Kim /File

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UC Berkeley filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit filed against several campus administrators for their past handling of conservative speakers’ planned campus visits.

The motion asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit penned by the Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, and the Young America’s Foundation, or YAF. The outcome of the lawsuit will be decided by a judge before, during or after the hearing September 29.

The original complaint was filed April 24. The plaintiffs allege that the campus violated the First Amendment through “discriminatory imposition of curfew and venue restrictions” for conservative speech, according to the complaint.

In April, the campus requested that conservative writer David Horowitz speak in the Clark Kerr Krutch Theatre, which the plaintiffs allege is more than one mile from the center of campus. The campus also required that the speech start by 1 p.m.

According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, these restrictions are “common sense” and were put in place to ensure security based on information provided by police officials.

The early start time was attributed to concerns that protests could extend into the late afternoon when the most people move through campus. The campus argued that that the decision to host the event at Clark Kerr was “content and viewpoint neutral,” citing concerns to protect students.

The motion asserts that UC Berkeley’s proposed alternative was as “equidistant from the primary residence halls” as the Genetic and Plant Biology Building, BCR’s original requested location.

YAF argues that non-conservative guests are allowed to speak without such restrictions.

Examples cited include former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox Quesada, and presidential adviser to former president Clinton, Maria Echaveste, both of whom spoke April 17 after 3 p.m. The campus responded to this claim by pointing to a lack of “threats to security accompanying the speeches” of Fox and Echaveste.

The campus also cites a new policy for managing guest speakers, which will be implemented over the next year, as reason to dismiss the complaint. According to Mogulof, the campus will hear the input of students and city residents when designing this policy.

An interim version of the new policy is scheduled to take effect right before the fall semester, and to be implemented in January 2018.

YAF criticized the announcement of a new policy as “absurd.” They argue that “UC-Berkeley administrators should base any policies protecting students’ constitutional rights on the Constitution itself,” according to a statement released on their website Thursday.

The campus argued that the court cannot issue a declaration on the past lawfulness of a state action.

Plaintiff attorney Harmeet Dhillon responded to this claim by distinguishing that the complaint is not solely based on the campus’s handling of Coulter’s and Horowitz’s visits. She asserts that the case is not “limited to backward looking damages,” but also to current and future campus policies.

BCR criticized the motion as “preposterous” in an email from BCR External Vice President Naweed Tahmas.

“While I am happy that the university has finally realized their draconian policies need reform, it does not excuse them of their past actions,” Tahmas said in the email.

A response brief from the plaintiffs is due August 11, and the campus will have until August 25 to respond.

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Naweed Tahmas as saying “campus” when he said “university.”