According to a university press release, the University of Colorado’s chief legal counsel, Christine Arguello, was nominated this month by President Bush to serve as a federal district court judge in Colorado.
Why is this of concern to FIRE? Well, the University of Colorado receives a "red light" rating on FIRE’s Spotlight for maintaining policies that unduly restrict student speech. For example, a student conduct policy states that any behavior which "demeans" another, including through "psychological threats"—whatever that vague phrase means—"is subject to the university’s highest conduct processes." The university also requires that any students or student groups wishing to use university property for any "non-academic use" (a category which appears to include all demonstrations and protests) must submit an application to do so at least 14 days in advance—an onerous preregistration requirement, given that demonstrations and protests are often spontaneous responses to unfolding events, and that waiting 14 days to hold a protest might significantly diminish, if not altogether eliminate, its impact.
The fact that an individual who let such policies stand during her tenure as the University of Colorado’s legal counsel could now become a federal judge is a worrisome development for free speech on campus. Given the propensity of universities to enact and maintain policies that grossly violate their students’ First Amendment rights, it is critical that students facing such censorship be able to find adequate recourse in courts of law—and that can only happen when judges fully understand the First Amendment’s application to public universities.
To date, students challenging university speech codes in federal courts have met with overwhelming success, but there have been some negative developments recently in cases involving high school students—and university administrations are forever arguing that those decisions should apply to their students as well. Therefore, a federal bench that is protective of college students’ rights is more important than ever before.