Los Angeles Pierce College – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Los Angeles Pierce College

This lawsuit is a part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. 

In November 2016, student Kevin Shaw of Pierce College in Los Angeles attempted to distribute Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution and recruit new members for his student group, Young Americans for Liberty, along the main public walkway through the heart of campus. As Shaw was setting up, a Pierce administrator approached and told him that he could not distribute literature outside of the free speech zone, a roughly parking-space-sized area of Pierce’s 426-acre campus. Shaw was also told he would have to fill out a permit application to use the free speech zone, or else he would be asked to leave campus.

On March 28, 2017, Shaw filed a lawsuit challenging Pierce’s free speech zone and the requirement that students get permission before speaking or distributing literature on campus, a Los Angeles Community College District policy covering all nine campuses in the district.  The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in support of Shaw’s lawsuit. On January 17, 2018, a federal court agreed with Shaw, ruling that he had alleged a violation of his rights under the First Amendment and that the open, outdoor areas of Pierce’s campus are public forums for speech, regardless of institutional policies claiming otherwise. In December 2018, the district agreed to settle the lawsuit, revoking its unconstitutional free speech zone policy and paying $225,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Shaw was represented by Arthur Willner of Leader & Berkon, LLP, and FIRE attorneys Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon and Brynne S. Madway.

On September 29, 2021, FIRE received a report that one of the Los Angeles Community College District schools maintained a free speech zone policy that violated terms of the 2018 settlement agreement. FIRE reviewed all of the district colleges’ relevant policies and determined that several others had also failed to conform their policies to the agreement. FIRE contacted counsel for the District and requested that they immediately publish compliant policies and remove from college campuses and websites all references to policies and regulations that were repealed as a settlement condition. On November 17, FIRE confirmed that the District’s free speech zone policies were brought into compliance with the agreement.