US Judge Allows Suit Over Berkeley Speakers to Move Forward

A free speech lawsuit against officials at the University of California, Berkeley can move forward, although there is no evidence the school discriminated against speakers with conservative views, a U.S. judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney said the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation could challenge what they said were secret university restrictions on speakers and a $9,000 fee the school charged to host conservative writer Ben Shapiro.

But Chesney said Wednesday the plaintiffs failed to show there was liberal bias when restrictions were imposed on where conservative commentators such as Ann Coulter could speak and when.

She noted that another right-wing speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, had received approval to speak on campus, and the plaintiffs did not allege the university imposed restrictions on his talk.

UC Berkeley police canceled Yiannopoulos' scheduled speech in February 2017 just before it was to begin, citing safety concerns. A large crowd had gathered outside and a demonstration turned violent when dozens of black-clad anarchists appeared and attacked some demonstrators and later vandalized some businesses near the campus.

University officials repeatedly cited safety concerns for restrictions on subsequent conservative speakers, and Chesney said "there are no allegations suggesting those concerns were unfounded."

The lawsuit was filed last year after a scheduled appearance by Coulter didn't take place in the wake of violence before Yiannopoulos' scheduled event.

UC Berkeley said in a statement it had spent more than $800,000 on security at the Shapiro event and the roughly $9,000 it charged was "lawful and appropriate."

It also denied it had a secret policy for high-profile speakers.

Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said she disagreed with numerous aspects of Chesney's ruling, but it was still "bad news" for UC Berkeley.

University policies are having a chilling effect on student speech by giving school officials "unfettered discretion" to decide what events require additional security and other restrictions, she said.

"That's incredibly subjective," she said.

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