Georgetown University Law Center: Students Prevented from Campaigning for Democratic Presidential Candidate Due to Ban on Partisan Political Speech


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Case Overview


During the 2015 fall semester, Georgetown University Law Center’s Office of Student Life (OSL) prevented a group of students supporting the 2016 presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders from tabling either inside or outside the law school with materials showing support for their candidate. OSL pointed to Georgetown Law’s “Student Organization Policy on Partisan Political Activities,” prohibiting all campaign-related activity on campus. The policy cites Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code—which prohibits tax-exempt institutions of higher education from engaging in partisan political activity—as its reasons for imposing restrictions on the political speech of students, faculty, and staff. On February 1, 2016, FIRE wrote to Georgetown Law, arguing that Section 501(c)(3) does not require the school to ban student campaign activities on campus. Instead, the Internal Revenue Service presumes that students and student groups speak for themselves, not their institution. FIRE requested that Georgetown Law revise its policy and allow its students and student groups to support their chosen candidates and engage in political education and debate on campus.