Federal judge rules that UC Berkeley must face free speech lawsuit

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A federal judge denied UC Berkeley’s request to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the campus discriminated against conservative speakers, such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, Wednesday.

The plaintiffs, Young America’s Foundation, or YAF, and Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, attempted to file a similar lawsuit against UC Berkeley in April 2017 after the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speaking event, but this lawsuit was dismissed in October 2017 by a federal judge. In the ruling, BCR and YAF were given 30 days to amend their original complaint.

BCR and YAF are allowed to proceed with their amended complaint, according to Judge Maxine Chesney’s ruling Wednesday. The revisions addressed the campus’s high-profile speaker and major events policies, according to YAF spokesperson Spencer Brown.

“UC Berkeley has used its infamous unwritten and unpublished High Profile Speaker Policy to repeatedly suppress conservative speech on campus,” Brown said in a statement issued Thursday. “In Wednesday’s ruling, the court found sufficient factual allegations for YAF’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims to move forward to trial.”

In the lawsuit, BCR and YAF alleged that the campus uses an “unwritten” policy regarding speakers that is both “impermissibly vague” and unconstitutional.

The campus “strongly denies” that a secret “High Profile Speaker Policy,” as it is referred to in the lawsuit, exists and will continue to dispute any related claims, according to a statement provided by campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

Brown said in the press release that the campus will have to answer for its “unconstitutional application” of the major events policy to suppress conservative speech. In an interview with The Daily Californian, he added that the campus imposed “unreasonable restrictions” during Ben Shapiro’s speaking event in September 2017.

“We believe the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are unfounded,” Mogulof said. “Berkeley does not discriminate against speakers invited by student organizations based upon viewpoint.”

The ruling allowed the plaintiffs to challenge the approximately $9,000 security fee that the campus imposed for the Shapiro event, according to Mogulof. The campus spent more than $800,000 on security expenses to safeguard that same event, Mogulof added.

“The campus strongly contends that the fees charged were lawful and appropriate,” Mogulof said in the statement. “This ruling does not conclude otherwise.”

Brown said the campus violated the 1st and 14th Amendments, as evidenced by the different ways in which it treats liberal speakers such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and conservative speakers such as Shapiro.

“The campus is committed to ensuring that student groups may hold events with speakers of their choosing, and it has expended significant resources to allow events to go forward without compromising the safety or security of the campus,” Mogulof added. “The campus will continue to vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

Brown said he was “really optimistic” about winning the case and that there is “significant evidence” for constitutional violations.

“This court case isn’t just to reclaim the free speech rights of conservative students,” said BCR External Vice President Naweed Tahmas, “but to uphold the right of every student to be able to invite anyone they would like without facing unlawful restrictions.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.