The Corner

Arizona Passes Goldwater-Based Campus Free Speech Law

On April 25, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a bill ensuring comprehensive protection for campus free speech at public universities in his state. The bill, expertly shepherded through the legislature by House Education Committee Chair Paul Boyer, is based on model campus free speech legislation published by Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. (I co-authored that model, along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher.)

Whereas several campus free speech laws simply ban restrictive speech codes and so-called free speech zones, the new Arizona law goes significantly further. It affirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on public policy controversies. It sets up a system designed to discipline students who engage in speaker shout-downs (while also strongly protecting the rights of the accused). It discourages the use of security fees as a backdoor censorship tactic. And it creates an oversight system based in the Board of Regents to ensure that administrators properly carry out these tasks.

While the First Amendment has long limited public universities to “time, place, and manner” restrictions on speech in a public forum, the Arizona law makes it more difficult for administrators to abuse that regulatory authority. Schools will only be permitted to impose time, place, and manner restrictions on speech if they are “necessary to achieve a compelling governmental interest” and are “the least restrictive means” for doing so. Arguably, no other state has set the bar for permissible time, place, and manner restrictions on speech so high.

Arizona and North Carolina have now passed campus free speech laws based on the Goldwater model. The Georgia legislature passed a Goldwater-based bill last month that awaits the governor’s signature. And the Wisconsin Board of Regents has adopted a discipline policy for shout-downs based on the Goldwater model. Goldwater-based bills have been introduced in several other states as well

Since the emergence of the campus free speech crisis in about 2014-15, we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of state-level legislation designed to secure free expression at public universities. As noted, some of those laws are limited to abolishing speech codes and zones, while others push for more comprehensive protection. Only Goldwater-based bills systematically address the shout-down issue at the core today’s campus free speech crisis.

This means that even when states pass less ambitious bills, more comprehensive legislation is always possible down the road. Arizona helped kick off the current wave of campus free speech legislation by abolishing so-called free speech zones in 2016. The fact Arizona has come back two years later and addressed the problem of shout-downs sets a pattern for what is likely to be years of legislative work nationally.

Far from declining after drawing national condemnation last academic year, shout-downs appear to have been normalized among a militant plurality of students. The prevalence of speaker disruptions this academic year is up, not down. For as long as shout-downs continue to spread, expect the Goldwater model campus free speech bill to remain a live legislative option.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Most Popular

Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More