Judge Says Conservative Student Groups Can Sue UC Berkeley over Speech Restrictions

A free speech lawsuit against officials at the University of California, Berkeley can move forward, although there is no evidence the school discriminated against speakers with conservative views, a US judge ruled.

As discussed above, plaintiffs allege in the [first amended complaint] that the [high-profile speaker policy] includes no standards, either through the policy's terms or its history of enforcement, to limit any implementing officials' discretion; as plaintiffs further point out, the HPSP provides, for example, no standard for determining what events fall under the policy, at what locations events may be held, and what, if any, security fee may be imposed.

While she "questioned the constitutionality" of one provision that defines a "major event" in relation to its "complexity", that claim is now moot because the university revised the "complexity" provision in January, the judge said.

University officials repeatedly cited safety concerns for restrictions on subsequent conservative speakers, and Chesney said "there are no allegations suggesting those concerns were unfounded".

In February 2017, a speech by conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley was canceled after violent protests erupted on campus, resulting in fires and shattered windows.

Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said she disagreed with numerous aspects of Chesney's ruling, but it was still "bad news" for UC Berkeley.

Chesney found the university charged a much higher ($9,162) security fee for the Shapiro speech than it did for events featuring Supreme Court Justice and Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor in the same venue, the report said.

"We are pleased that the court carefully considered the issues and upheld the Major Events Policy that the campus adopted previous year", Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor of UC Berkeley's Office of Communications and Public Affairs, said in an email to Courthouse News. The lawsuit claims the college unconstitutionally suppressed conservative speech on campus.

Although Chesney said that she was "unpersuaded" that Berkeley discriminated against the conservative groups, she agreed that the groups can pursue an equal protection claim over the alleged security fees that the school charged.

It also denied it had a secret policy for high-profile speakers. Sather Gate is a historical entrance to the UC Berkeley campus.

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