Berkeley students file lawsuit over canceled Ann Coulter speaking engagement
Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation have filed a joint lawsuit Monday alleging that college and police authorities have failed to protect the constitutional rights of students and unfairly discriminated against conservative speakers appearing on campus.
The suit claims that voices that fall outside of the “campus orthodoxy” have been stifled and alleges that authorities in Berkeley have "systematically and intentionally suppressed constitutionally-protected expression by the plaintiffs... simply because that expression may anger or offend students, UC Berkeley administrators, and/or community members who do not share Plaintiffs' viewpoints."
Outspoken political commentator and New York Times bestselling author Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak at an event on campus Thursday but was told that the college could not meet the necessary security requirements to guarantee her safety at the event.
"This is about Berkeley's persistent refusal to honor the constitution when it comes to conservative speech on campus," the plaintiffs’ attorney Harmeet Dhillon said, as cited by ABC News.
Berkeley’s response letter claims that more university and police resources have been devoted to the Berkeley Campus Republicans than “any other student group in memory."
Dhillon spoke at a press conference regarding the lawsuit on Monday where she decried the “unspoken policy” that allows administrators to unilaterally declare the time, manner and place where a designated “high profile” speaker may hold a speaking engagement.
She criticized the vagueness of such terminology and how it informs the University’s policy claiming that neither “high profile speaker” nor the term “secure location” were adequately defined, affording authorities carte blanche to determine whether or not to cancel or reschedule events without prior notice.
She cited an open-air speech by former Mexican president Vicente Fox, a vocal critic of President Trump, at the university last week as an example of double standards when it comes to so-called “high-profile speakers” holding events at “secure locations” on campus.
Dhillon also cited the recent violence at conservative events both in Berkeley and at Auburn University in Alabama, as examples of the so-called “heckler’s veto” that is often discussed in constitutional litigation whereby the mere threat of violence should not and does not impinge on the first amendment right to free speech and expression, regardless of its content.
The attorney also claimed that in her correspondence with university authorities, Berkeley had accepted that they not only anticipated negative feedback to Coulter’s appearance on campus but, as before at the infamous Milo Yiannopolous event in February, it was outside agitators and not university students who had threatened to disrupt the event.
Dhillon also highlighted the apparent indifference of the Berkeley Police department to the violence, noting that it is illegal for protesters to wear masks in the state of California but the number of arrests during past outbursts of violence between masked protesters and counter protesters did not reflect that this was being enforced.
Dhillon was careful to underline the fact that she represents the two conservative groups who had arranged these events, including Ms. Coulter’s expected appearance, but did not represent Ms. Coulter herself in the lawsuit.