Court Battle Between Berkeley College Republicans And UC Administration Intensifies

The Dhillon Law Group in San Francisco, headed by Harmeet K. Dhillon, the Republican National Committeewoman for California, has filed a First Amended Complaint in a lawsuit by the Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans against the University of California, Berkeley. The complaint outlines several instances of violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the Berkeley College Republicans and YAF so far this year.

The federal judge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California allowed Dhillon’s firm, which represents both plaintiffs, to file an amended complaint in light of the university’s scrambling attempts to alter their policies regarding "major events" put on by student and/or non-faculty/administration users.

Within the newly-filed complaint, the plaintiffs cite numerous discriminatory time, place, and manner restrictions on conservatives’ free speech rights on a non-content neutral basis. The complaint describes the February 1 Milo Yiannopoulos event, where destructive riots ensued with very few arrests because UCPD and Berkeley police officers were given a stand down order, despite demanding several thousand dollars in security fees from the students in order to allow the event, a sum the Berkeley College Republicans had agreed to pay. In the aftermath of the event, on March 1, 2017, university administration officials surreptitiously adopted an unwritten policy regarding "high-profile speakers."

This policy gave UC Berkeley absolute power in determining time, place, and manner restrictions on the Berkeley College Republicans' free speech, which created a great multitude of problems in the planning of subsequent events for the Berkeley College Republicans and YAF. These restrictions included limiting the attendance of the events; limiting events to student attendees only; limiting the event to occur during daylight hours; disallowing BCR or YAF to advertise their event online or on campus; withholding information from attendees until hours before the start of an event; requiring the speaker to speak at a location away from the center of campus; and imposing excessive, overbearing security fees, to name a few.

The vague, secretive, and escalating policies announced piecemeal by UC Berkeley’s Administration forced the cancellation of the David Horowitz and Ann Coulter events scheduled in April of this year. They also contributed to the intense stonewalling perpetrated by the University bureaucracy in order to obstruct Ben Shapiro’s lecture aptly titled "Say No to Campus Thuggery."

Due to the persistence of Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation in insisting on a level playing field for conservative speech on the public campus, and under the watchful eye of the national news media, UC Berkeley bureaucrats failed to block the event, and Shapiro spoke to a lecture hall of several hundred attendees, and millions more via live-streaming. Yet Shapiro, too, was subjected to illegal and arbitrary restrictions on the speaking event that are not applied to liberal speakers in the same venue — such as a last-minute decree from the University that the capacity of the hall be cut in half from the nearly 2,000 who were allowed to hear Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the same venue and restrictions on ticketing and a bar on stand-by ticket distribution. The university also imposed a high "security fee" of nearly $10,000 — a sum no student group can be expected to raise for a one-hour lecture.

In the wake of the Shapiro event, others speakers with disfavored viewpoints have been singled out. Pro-Isreal Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz, was subjected to unreasonable hurdles on his ability to speak at the invitation of Jewish student groups on campus. Ultimately the University barely eluded another lawsuit by having Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky invite Professor Dershowitz, who has pointed out that speakers lauding Hamas are common on the campus, whereas his pro-Israel viewpoint is not. UC Berkeley professors are allowed to invite speakers without the same limitations imposed on students or outside groups — even though the safety and security concerns the university invokes to make life difficult for certain speakers presumably is the same regardless of who invites any given controversial speaker. In this way, UC Berkeley’s disingenuousness is on full display here, and not only in the case of speakers invited by the two plaintiffs in this case.

In response to the submission of the amended complaint, Naweed Tahmas, External Vice-President of the Berkeley College Republicans said, "The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America's Foundation will continue to hold the university accountable for their restrictive and unlawful policies towards conservative speakers." He continued:

For too long students have been robbed of the opportunity to hear conservative viewpoints on campus due to a biased establishment that is hell-bent on silencing conservative voices on campus. This lawsuit brings us one step closer to freeing the campus from their authoritarian grip. If well-settled Constitutional principles prevail in court in this case, the ideological gate surrounding the university will be forced open, and students wanting to invite liberals and conservatives alike who are shunned by both the academic and administrative class, such as Alan Dershowitz and Ann Coulter, will no longer have to run through a gauntlet of impossible-to-satisfy-barriers in order to host interesting speakers on campus. Conservatives students had to clear unlawful hurdles to host speakers such as David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, and Ben Shapiro. Our principled legal challenge to the UC behemoth has already sent campus administrators into full retreat, as they have begun reviewing and re-describing their speaker policies, even if the substance of retaining unlawful content-based discretion over access to the University’s speaker venues. This war is far from over, but conservatives have joined battle and will not rest until UC Berkeley complies with the First Amendment, equal protection, and due process as required by the Supreme Court.

The Court’s bipartisanship in settling issues of free speech in the past will hopefully offer some reprieve for conservative students across the United States struggling to combat biased liberal administrations. The battle, said Dhillon, is ultimately about the fundamental protection of free speech, equal protection and due process.

"The fundamental free speech, equal protection, and due process issues at stake in this lawsuit are not only about the rights of conservative students on public property — but also about the concept of treating ALL students fairly when it comes to access to the public goods and venues at issue," said Dhillon. "In 2017, conservative students have to pay to import conservative speakers from off campus, while liberal students’ every whim is indulged inside and outside the classroom. Not only is this unfair and, indeed — illegal, but it also disserves all students on the campus, who are subjected to an increasingly hollow echo chamber of self-reinforcing liberal orthodoxy. Our students and taxpayers in California deserve and are entitled to a content-neutral platform for all speech, and we will pursue this goal in the courts until we achieve success."

 
 
 

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