January 20, 2018

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Court denies college’s request to dismiss free speech case.

On Wednesday, California District Court rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against Los Angeles Pierce College and the Los Angeles Community College District on the grounds of First Amendment violations.

Pierce College is a part of the largest community college district in the United States, the Los Angeles Community College District, yet it provides only .003 percent of its 426-acre campus to exercise free expression. In November 2016, Pierce College student and Young Americans for Liberty member Kevin Shaw was handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution when he was approached by a campus administrator and told he could not distribute literature outside of the free speech zone, a space of approximately 616 square feet. Shaw filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles Community College District with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and co-counsel Arthur Willner, a partner at Leader & Berkon LLP, on March 28, 2017.

LA Pierce asked the court to dismiss the case on the grounds of their campus policy, but the court ruled that open spaces on LA Pierce’s campus are public forums, “regardless of Pierce’s regulations.” Thus, the policy regarding the free speech zone is moot.

The purpose of a university is to encourage free and open discourse and a healthy exchange of ideas. In a press release, FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon said, “The campus is a college student’s public square. It’s their space to be engaged citizens. The public recognizes this. So do courts across the country. Now it’s time for LACCD to follow suit.”

Since the motion to dismiss was pre-discovery and was rejected, now the case will move into discovery and proceed forward.

Schools keep losing these cases. I think it’s clear enough now that officials shouldn’t enjoy qualified immunity.