UC Berkeley Free Speech



Free speech on college campuses has been under attack in recent years, increasingly from students who have protested speakers whom they disagree with politically. These protests have succeeded in both cancelling events and creating disturbances through blockades, shouts, and even violence as was the case at Middlebury College. What responsibilities do universities hold to protect a climate that encourages the open and respectful exchange of ideas? Should “hate speech” be protected or are special protections needed to protect students from “offensive” discourse? What do universities owe students and speakers to protect their personal safety if protests break out?

Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, Director of Litigation, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education,
Harmeet K. Dhillon, Founding Partner, Dhillon Law Group
Professor Michael McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor and Director of the Constitutional Law Center, Stanford Law School
Elizabeth Wydra, President, Constitutional Accountability Center
Moderator: Hon. Sandra Ikuta, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
Introduction: Joshua McDaniel, Horvitz & Levy LLP

Harmeet Dhillon Free Speech

EVENT: February 12, 2018 – Litigating Free Speech on Campus: A Conversation with Harmeet Dhillon

Controversies involving free speech on college campuses have dominated the news over the past year. Yet what do such controversies actually look like on the ground, and in trial courts where those claims are raised? Join the Constitutional Law Center for a conversation with Harmeet K. Dhillon, a San Francisco litigator and plaintiff’s lawyer in a current First Amendment case involving University of California at Berkeley.


UPDATE: February 2, 2018 – Harmeet Dhillon on Fox News To Discuss UC-Berkeley Lawsuit

According to Harmeet:
Right after Ann Coulter speech was shut down effectively, we filed this lawsuit. The University moved to dismiss through its outside lawyers paid for by taxpayers. They also changed their policy in writing. The judged agreed to allow us to amend our lawsuit to reflect challenge to their new policy. The new policy is basically the same as the old policy but using different language. Instead of “High-Profile Speakers”, they are calling it “Major Events”. But it has the same constitutional defects that the Department of Justice has identified.

In the second round the motion to dismiss, the DOJ filed a statement of interest last week and agreed that our lawsuit should be allowed to proceed. The court should decide whether Berkeley violated its constitution by multiple restrictions on conservative speech on campus. We will be arguing this motion in court in two weeks.

UPDATE: January 25, 2018 – Justice Department backs conservative student groups in Ann Coulter free speech case.

The Justice Department sided in court Thursday with two conservative student groups in a high-profile case involving conservatives Ann Coulter and David Horowitz and free speech policies at the University of California, Berkeley.

The conservative groups have challenged what they describe as “discriminatory” free speech policies at the university, and the Justice Department move ratcheted up the Trump administration’s support on an issue that has rattled the higher education community.

“The United States has a significant interest in the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms in institutions of higher learning,” the brief said. “As the Supreme Court has noted, ‘teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.'”

Read the full article on Politico.

UPDATE: January 25, 2018 – Trump administration backs conservative students’ lawsuit against UC Berkeley over free speech.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a “statement of interest” Thursday supporting a free-speech lawsuit by conservative students against the University of California.

It’s the third such legal filing the Trump administration has made in First Amendment cases since September, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that too many universities stifle conservatives’ free speech and singled out UC Berkeley.

In April, a student group, the Berkeley College Republicans, and their backers, the Young America’s Foundation, sued the University of California and UC Berkeley officials in federal court, accusing them of censorship against conservative students.

Read the full article on SFGATE.

UPDATE: January 25, 2018 – U.S. Justice Department sides with conservative students in UC Berkeley free speech suit

The Trump administration is wading into the ongoing legal battle between UC Berkeley and conservative students who say the school is stepping on their right to free speech.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case in support of the students, agreeing that their complaint “adequately pleads that the university’s speech restrictions violate the First Amendment.”

“This Department of Justice will not stand by idly while public universities violate students’ constitutional rights,” Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand said in a statement.

It’s not the first time the administration has made a show of trying to stick it to what is often identified as one of the nation’s most liberal universities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sympathized during a September talk at Georgetown University with the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who spoke at Cal last year, saying “no one fainted.” In a February 2017 tweet, President Donald Trump appeared to threaten to pull funding from the university, writing, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Read the full article on The Mercury News.

UPDATE: January 25, 2018 – Federal government supports Berkeley College Republicans in case against Cal

In a “statement of interest” filed in federal court Thursday, the Department of Justice advised a judge to deny UC Berkeley’s motion to throw out a lawsuit from the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) and Young America’s Foundation (YAF). The lawsuit, initially filed in April, alleged UC Berkeley violated conservative students’ First Amendment rights by thwarting their plans to host speakers on campus.

In a press release on the new statement, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand wrote, “This Department of Justice will not stand by idly while public universities violate students’ constitutional rights.”

Read the full article on Berkeleyside.

UPDATE: January 25, 2018 – United States Department of Justice

The Unites States filed a statement of interest in our First Amendment lawsuit against UC Berkeley, arguing that strict scrutiny applies, and that UC Berkeley’s policies invite viewpoint discrimination by affording the university officials unbridled discretion.

Please click here to view the document.

UPDATE: January 25, 2018 – Justice Department Backs Conservative Groups In UC Berkeley Free-Speech Fight

The Trump administration is jumping into the fracas over free speech at UC Berkeley.

The Justice Department on Thursday filed a statement of interest supporting two conservative groups who sued the school last year. The groups alleged that administrators and campus events policy unfairly hampered their ability to book right-leaning speakers like Ann Coulter and ultimately led to the events being canceled or modified.

Associate Atty. Gen. Rachel Brand wrote in a Fox News opinion piece that certain Berkeley policies relating to location restrictions — among other things — are onerous and applied selectively. “It doesn’t require much creativity to turn this policy into a heckler’s veto,” she wrote Thursday.

She criticized the policies of several colleges across the country but was sure to single out Berkeley.

Read the full article on LA Times.

UPDATE: January 25, 2018 – Justice Dept. sides with conservative groups in free-speech lawsuit against Berkeley

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Thursday on CNN that the department was getting involved in the case because officials want “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.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been outspoken about free speech on college campuses, and in advance of his department’s court filing, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand penned a column for Fox News criticizing the practices at some colleges.

“Free speech is under attack at college campuses across the country,” Brand wrote. “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.”

Read the full article on The Washington Post.

UPDATE: October 02, 2017 – UC Berkeley Flunks Its Own Free-Speech Legacy—Again And Again

The University of California Berkeley is championed by leftists as the birthplace of the free speech movement, a mantle it’s been all too happy to claim as its own—yet in recent months, that smug veneer has been stripped away to uncover a brutal partisan hypocrisy.

Read the full commentary by Harmeet Dhillon on our blog.

UPDATE: September 11, 2017 – Berkeley offers counseling ahead of Ben Shapiro visit

Berkeley is buffing up security ahead of unrest at commentator Ben Shapiro’s scheduled event but the university also is offering counseling to worried students and faculty. Is this ‘snowflaking’ gone too far?

Watch the full video on Fox News.

UPDATE: August 24, 2017 – UC Berkeley Tries To Reclaim Its Free Speech Legacy

BERKELEY — In recent months, white nationalists and other “alt-right” groups have advanced the argument that UC Berkeley isn’t living up to its distinction as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. By canceling events such as a February speech by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, they contend, the school is stepping on their First Amendment right to express themselves.

Click here to read the full article on The Mercury News.

UPDATE: August 11, 2017

Dhillon Law Group, on behalf of Plaintiffs Young America’s Foundation and Berkeley College Republicans, filed an Opposition to UC Berkeley’s Motion to Dismiss.

Please click here to view the Opposition to Motion to Dismiss.

UPDATE: April 26, 2017

Please click here to view the letter to UC Berkeley’s counsel.

UPDATE: April 24, 2017

Dhillon Law Group filed a lawsuit against UC Berkeley for suppressing free speech on campus.  On June 28, 2017, UC Berkeley filed a Motion to Dismiss in response to our Complaint.

Please click here to view the Motion to Dismiss.

UPDATE: April 21, 2017

Please click here to access the response letter to UC Berkeley’s Associate General Counsel.

It all started with the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s and Milo Yiannopoulos’ cancelled speeches at UC Berkeley.


Read Dhillon Law Group’s response to UC Berkeley regarding suppression of free speech on campus:

Please click here to access the April 20, 2017 letter to UC Berkeley’s Interim Vice Chancellor regarding the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speech on campus.

Please click here to access UC Berkeley’s responsive letter to our April 20, 2017 letter.

Latest News

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May 11, 2018
The Justice Department has won a small but significant victory in the campus free-speech case of Young America’s Foundation and Berkeley College Republicans v. Napolitano. Justice didn’t have to get involved in the case, but it did so and has...

Free Speech Lawsuit Against UC Berkeley Upheld by Federal Judge

May 02, 2018
A federal judge rejected the University of California at Berkeley’s request to dismiss a lawsuit claiming it discriminated against conservative speakers. Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney ruled that two conservative groups, the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s...

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Apr 27, 2018
Fox News: Free Speech Lawsuit Filed After Violence on the UC-Berkeley Campus Can Move Forward A free-speech lawsuit filed on the UC Berkeley campus can go forward. Two groups are suing school officials in the wake of fallout from the...

Motion to Dismiss Denied in Part in Lawsuit Against UC Berkeley

Apr 25, 2018
April 25, 2018 — Federal judge rules plaintiffs may pursue multiple claims against UC Berkeley and UCPD officials in their individual and official capacities for violating the free speech rights of Young America’s Foundation and Berkeley College Republicans. Please click...

Free Speech, Fear of Violence Collide at UW

Feb 14, 2018
One evening earlier this week, Chevy Swanson, bespectacled, clean-cut and president of the College Republicans at the University of Washington, stood in a classroom with about a dozen other students, mostly male, to decorate signs with various slogans. “We died for liberty...

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