News and Commentary

DOJ Backs Conservative Groups Suing UC Berkeley For Hindering Conservative Speakers

The Department of Justice is throwing its weight behind two conservative college groups that are suing the University of California at Berkeley for impeding conservative speakers from appearing on campus.

The DOJ filed a statement of interest to urge the court to hear the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs, Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR), had made a proper plea in April 2017 and the federal government was taking an interest because it “has a significant interest in the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms in institutions of higher learning.”

The original lawsuit was dismissed by a judge, but the plaintiffs were permitted to file an amended complaint, which they did in November. Young America’s Foundation spokesman Spencer Brown said YAF “would welcome the Department of Justice taking an interest in our case. Free speech needs to be protected for all students.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told CNN on Thursday that the DOJ was making the effort because officials wanted “to protect against universities — the government really, if you’re a public university — deciding which speech is favored, which ideas are too controversial to even allow to be heard on a college campus.”

The desire to confront colleges over their blocking of free speech comes from the top of the DOJ; Attorney General Jeff Sessions has minced no words about his perspective, which was echoed by Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, writing a column in which she stated:

Free speech is under attack at college campuses across the country. The problem is not limited to a few colleges barring radical speakers to avoid a riot. Universities large and small, public and private, are restricting students’ and professors’ speech or enabling others to silence speech with which they disagree.”

Berkeley’s lack of support for free speech from conservative figures came to a head in early 2017; events featuring Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, and Milo Yiannopoulos were canceled; later that summer, Daily Wire Editor–in-Chief Ben Shapiro’s September speech went through all sorts of machinations from the university before he actually spoke.

The plaintiffs stated:

Though UC Berkeley promises its students an environment that promotes free debate and the free exchange of ideas, it had breached this promise through the repressive actions of University administrators and campus police, who have systematically and intentionally suppressed constitutionally-protected expression by Plaintiffs (and the many UC Berkeley students whose public policy viewpoints align with Plaintiffs), simply because that expression may anger or offend students, UC Berkeley administrators, and/or community members who do not share Plaintiffs’ viewpoints.