U.S. Department of Justice sides with students in supporting free speech in California campus

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday openly voiced its support to the right of free speech of students at California campus.

The Justice Department filed a Statement of Interest in Shaw v. Burke at the request of the Department of Education

The plaintiff, Kevin Shaw, is a student at Los Angeles Pierce College, a public college within the Los Angeles Community College District.  He is challenging the constitutionality of a Pierce College policy that effectively bans all free expression on campus outside a 616 square-foot “Free Speech Area.”  

In order to use the Free Speech Area—which comprises approximately .003% of the campus—students must obtain prior authorization from campus officials by submitting a permit application. 

The College also maintains unpublished rules governing free speech, which students are not made aware of until they obtain a permit application.   

Mr. Shaw claims that Pierce College administrators prohibited him from distributing Spanish-language copies of the United States Constitution outside the Free Speech Area. 

The Justice Department primarily argues that the plaintiff’s allegations have adequately pleaded violations of his First Amendment.  The Justice Department argues that the college’s speech policies amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint that chilled free expression, and that they did not constitute valid time, place, and manner restrictions. 

This is the second Statement of Interest filed by the Department of Justice in a First Amendment case under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The first was filed on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski.

In filing the Statement of Interest, Attorney General Jeff Sessions provided the following statement:

“University officials and faculty must defend free expression boldly and unequivocally. Last month, I promised a recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights. The Justice Department continues to do its part in defending free speech, protecting students’ free expression, and enforcing federal law.”

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