Conservative students at Clovis Community College prevailed over the college in a battle centering on First Amendment rights.
The legal spat, stemming from posters placed by the local branch of Young Americans for Freedom, made it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on the college’s policy for flyers.
From the decision: The Ninth Circuit ruled that Clovis Community College’s flyer policy is unconstitutional.
- The court found that the policy, which prohibited students from posting flyers containing “inappropriate” or “offensive” language, was deemed overbroad and vague by the court, allowing administrators to remove any flyers they disliked, therefore violating students’ First Amendment rights.
- The Ninth Circuit ruled that Clovis’ policy suppressed protected speech and gave college administrators unbridled discretion to block speech they disliked.
- The court noted that political speech has a high propensity to be viewed as “offensive,” and the First Amendment provides the broadest protection for political expression. The unanimous panel also noted that Clovis’ vague policy violated student speech rights by inviting arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
The path to the Ninth Circuit: The legal spat originated in November 2021 when YAF-Clovis received permission from administrators to post three flyers on bulletin boards inside Clovis’ academic buildings advocating for freedom and listing the death tolls of communist regimes.
- Emails obtained via a public records request revealed that after the flyers went up, a Clovis administrator wrote that he would “gladly” take the flyers down following complaints about their content.
- The administrator also wrote approving the flyers in the first place may have been a “mistake” and that Clovis instead should have censored them under a policy stating that “Posters with inappropriate or offensive language or themes are not permitted and will not be approved.”
- After Clovis President Lori Bennett personally ordered the removal of the flyers, the college used a pretextual justification to stop the students from hanging a new set of five pro-life flyers on bulletin boards.
- First amendment advocate group FIRE filed a lawsuit on August 11, 2022, after which a preliminary injunction halted the policy’s enforcement in October 2022.
What’s next: The preliminary injunction will remain in effect, meaning that Clovis administrators cannot bring back the unlawful policy while the lawsuit proceeds.