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Censorship Costs: University of California system lost $800,000 defending censorship of ‘The Koala’

(Stanislavskyi /

In 2015, administrators at the University of California, San Diego, pressed their lawyers to find a “creative legal solution” to get around the pesky First Amendment rights of an abrasive, off-color student newspaper, The Koala, which had published an article satirizing “safe spaces.” Administrators found a “creative” solution that was too cute by half: because they couldn’t single out the $452.80 intended for The Koala, they eliminated funding for all student newspapers. They soon found themselves on the wrong side of the “v.” in a federal lawsuit — a costly one. 

The University of California fought the lawsuit, and a federal district court initially sided with the university before being overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in July of 2019. (FIRE and the Cato Institute filed an amici curiae brief urging this result.)

As we explained after The Koala’s win on appeal:

In today’s decision, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, finding that UCSD’s censorship of The Koala infringed the Free Press Clause of the First Amendment. While government actors generally have “broad discretion in granting or denying subsidies,” they can violate the First Amendment “by withholding benefits for a censorious purpose.” Here, the Ninth Circuit found that The Koala’s satirical article was “clearly protected” speech, and noted the existence of “unusually compelling” charges that the university had acted with discriminatory intent. 

Undeterred, the university repeatedly pressed the Ninth Circuit to reconsider, first seeking a panel rehearing (denied) and then arguing that the court should never have considered the case because The Koala’s status as a recognized organization had lapsed (also denied).

Last month, the University of California and The Koala settled the case. The university agreed to pay The Koala $12,000, plus $150,000 in attorneys’ fees. Once the case was settled, we issued a public records request, seeking information about how much it had paid the lawyers it retained to defend it up and down the Ninth Circuit. 

That cost? $662,317.86.

That means that defending the “creative legal solution” — that is, censorship — cost the University of California system at least $824,317.86. For those keeping track at home, that’s just north of 1,820 times the amount of money The Koala was denied under the unconstitutional funding change.   

If speech ain’t free, it’ll cost the taxpayers and tuition-paying students a pretty penny. 

You can view the full breakdown of invoices below:

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