Students’ Free Speech Victory Upheld at Oregon State as Supreme Court Denies Cert Petition

By on October 8, 2013

Last October, my colleague Will Creeley wrote a post here on The Torch describing an important victory for students’ free speech rights from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Oregon State University Student Alliance v. Ray. That decision will now stand, as the United States Supreme Court denied defendants’ petition for certiorari in an order issued yesterday.

As you may recall, the case arose when Oregon State University (OSU) administrators apparently attempted to push the Liberty, a conservative student newspaper, off campus—initially by removing and throwing out the Liberty’s newsbins (picture here), then by enforcing an unwritten “policy” to forbid the paper from being distributed on campus like other publications. The students filed suit.

The federal district court concluded that the student journalists provided insufficient evidence to prove their claims, refused to allow them to amend their complaint to satisfy the deficiencies, and dismissed the case. But last year, the Ninth Circuit reversed that decision, allowing the suit to proceed. The appellate court also held that the top university administrators were properly named as defendants, as the complaint properly alleged that they knew employees under their supervision “denied plaintiffs’ publication the same access to the campus that the Barometer [another student publication] received; and they did nothing.”

Will’s blog entry provides a detailed account of the facts of the case as well as a discussion of the appellate court’s findings and legal analysis. As Will wrote last year, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is “a useful development for student speech rights,” because:

it means that high-ranking public university officials who tacitly give a stamp of approval to unconstitutional speech codes or other speech violations on campus won’t be allowed off the hook simply because they weren’t the ones enforcing the policy. If the president of a university knows that student speech rights are actively being violated, but takes no action to end the violation, he or she can expect to be named as a defendant when a lawsuit is filed.

As a result of yesterday’s order, the plaintiffs will finally be allowed to amend their complaint, and the case will resume. This is great news for college and university students and opponents of censorship everywhere.