Federal judge rules Berkeley must face lawsuit on discrimination against conservative speakers

Federal judge rules Berkeley must face lawsuit on discrimination against conservative speakers
The University of California, Berkeley is facing a lawsuit that it discriminated against conservative speakers such as Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro. Sather Gate is a historical entrance to the UC Berkeley campus. (Kirkikis/Getty Images)

A federal judge has ruled the University of California, Berkeley, must face a lawsuit that it discriminated against conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter, Courthouse News reported. The court dismissed some of the plaintiff’s claims, but allowed others to stand.

U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney found Wednesday that the plaintiffs presented an adequate argument that the university “used an overly broad events policy to charge excessive fees and impose other unreasonable restrictions on conservative speakers,” according to the report.

Chesney took issue with a section of the policy that allows the university to impose stricter rules based on an event’s “complexity,” according to the report.

She rejected, however, the allegation that the university deliberately tried to squelch conservative viewpoints. She found that some liberal events did not carry the same security issues when compared to conservative speakers.

Also, Chesney dismissed a claim for punitive damages, the report states.

What is the background?

Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization, and Berkeley College Republicans sued University of California President Janet Napolitano (the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security) and other school officials in April 2017, Courthouse News reported. The lawsuit claims the college unconstitutionally suppressed conservative speech on campus.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after the college cited safety concerns and cancelled an event with conservative commentator Ann Coulter, CNS reported.

College organizers offered to reschedule the event at a venue that was off-campus and during a week when classes were not held, according to the report.

Another complaint in the lawsuit involved “exorbitant” security fees for events that included appearances by Shapiro in September 2017 and conservative writer David Horowitz in April 2017. According to the lawsuit, both events were cancelled because of the expensive security fees.

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.

In contrast, liberal speakers such as former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former Clinton White House official Maria Echaveste, were allegedly given the opportunity to speak as a central campus location during afternoon and evening hours, according to the plaintiffs.

“We’re very pleased that our lawsuit against UC Berkeley officials in their individual and official capacities is moving forward,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Harmeet Dhillon. “We look forward to litigating these issues.”

How did Berkeley respond?

“We are pleased that the court carefully considered the issues and upheld the Major Events Policy that the campus adopted last year,” Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor of UC Berkeley’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, said in an email to Courthouse News.

Mogulof also maintained the university was justified in charging the fee, as it had spent more than $800,000 on security expenses for Shapiro’s visit.

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

Settlement talks are expected to begin on June 5 with a magistrate judge.