Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a statement of interest into a student’s free speech lawsuit against his school Tuesday.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) called Los Angeles Pierce College’s speech policies an “unconstitutional prior restraint,” according to a press release obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. Plaintiff Kevin Shaw sued the school in March for banning free expression outside a “Free Speech Area” of approximately 600 square feet.
“University officials and faculty must defend free expression boldly and unequivocally,” Sessions said in the press release. “Last month, I promised a recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights. The Justice Department continues to do its part in defending free speech, protecting students’ free expression, and enforcing federal law.”
Pierce College told Shaw that he could not distribute copies of the Constitution outside of an area making up around 0.003 percent of the campus. Attorneys from the free speech-focused nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) are representing the student in his lawsuit.
The DOJ alleges that Pierce College’s “Free Speech Area” placed illegitimate restrictions on the place, time, and manner of student expression on campus.
“Students like Kevin go to college to learn and grow in conversation with their peers, but a free speech quarantine like Pierce’s threatens to punish students who speak their minds in the wrong place,” said Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE’s director of litigation. “The law is clear: Public colleges like Pierce can’t force students into tiny slices of campus to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
The DOJ filed one other statement of interest in September for Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, a similar case pertaining to campus free speech zones at Georgia Gwinnett College.
“We do not comment on pending litigation,” said Yusef Robb, a spokesman for Pierce College. “We are fully committed to free expression on our campuses. As a community college district, promoting the free exchange of ideas and knowledge is at the core of what we do, every day.”
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