US Department of Justice supports free speech lawsuit against UC Berkeley

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The lawsuit filed against UC Berkeley by The Young America’s Foundation, or YAF, and the Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, now has the official support of the U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ, as of Thursday.

While the lawsuit was dismissed in October 2017, YAF and BCR amended their claims and resubmitted it in November. The lawsuit alleges that campus officials violated conservative students’ 1st Amendment right to free speech on campus.

“Plaintiffs’ amended complaint adequately pleads that the University’s speech restrictions violate the First Amendment, and therefore, at least to that extent, the Court should deny Defendants’ motion to dismiss,” the DOJ Statement of Interest said.

In the original lawsuit, the alleged 1st Amendment violation was concerning the high-profile speaker policy due to the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speech in April 2017.

The lawsuit was later amended to include alleged violations of the 1st Amendment and the campus’ major event policy in regards to Ben Shapiro’s event in September 2017, according to YAF spokesperson Spencer Brown.

“The allegations made by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are unfounded. Berkeley does not discriminate against speakers invited by student organizations based upon viewpoint.” campus spokesperson Roqua Montez said.

Brown said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a Statement of Interest for this lawsuit, which means that if the allegations are proven to be true, then there will have been a confirmed violation of the 1st Amendment. Brown added that there will be a hearing for the lawsuit Feb. 16.

“The school’s policy to bring in conservative speakers and any other event that’s conservative is much harder than it is for liberal students,” Brown said. “The university was selectively enforcing these policies that made it much harder for conservatives to bring in speakers and express their ideas.”

Brown said campus administrators can express their bias through choosing how and when to enforce these policies, but the lawsuit, if successful, would remove administrative bias from this process altogether.

“The Berkeley College Republicans are grateful to the DOJ for filing a Statement of Interest into the lawsuit of discriminatory practices in stifling the guaranteed constitutional right of free speech brought against UC Berkeley,” said BCR President Bradley Devlin in a YAF press release.

Cal Berkeley Democrats President Caiden Nason responded to the claims by stating that all student organizations at UC Berkeley are limited by the same guidelines and event policies as the conservative organizations.

Nason claimed there would be no issue if the event policies had been followed by BCR and YAF.

“We are a public university with limited funding, it takes a while. You have to follow the process. You need six week notice,” Nason said.

Nason also said he does not believe there is grounds for this lawsuit and referred to it as a “waste of time and resources.”

“This suit has already been dismissed by the Court once. The campus will continue to vigorously defend itself against these allegations.” Montez said.

Rishabh Nijhawan is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @realRishNij.