Phi Beta Cons

Free Speech Gets Whittled Down Some More

Here’s the press release on a decision by the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday:


June 5, 2007

Contact: James Bopp, Jr.

Phone: 812-232-2434; Fax 812-235-3685


A Ninth Circuit Panel Upholds Expenditure Limits for Student Government



On Friday, June 1, a three judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld the

University of Montana’s $100 expenditure limits for students campaigning for

office in University of Montana student government. UM student Aaron Flint

filed the suit in 2004, after he was denied a seat in the student senate for

exceeding the expenditure limit, claiming that it violated his First

Amendment rights. The 9th Circuit ruled that the First Amendment does not

have full application to student government elections and that the

expenditure limits served a legitimate governmental educational interest.


Limits on candidates’ spending have been universally struck, most recently

by the United States Supreme Court less than a year ago in Randall v.

Sorrell, 126 S. Ct. 2479 (2006). The 9th Circuit is the first court to find

that students do not have full First Amendment rights when engaging in

extracurricular college activities funded by university students’ own money.


“Universities have no legitimate, much less compelling, governmental

educational interest in preventing students from learning how to participate

in a free society in which elections are conducted without mandatory

expenditure, and where citizens are free to speak out matters of public

concern,” says James Bopp, Jr. lead counsel for Mr. Flint.


“Furthermore, this case has very broad anti-speech ramifications.  It means

that all student extracurricular speech activities are in danger, even when

the students are spending their own money on speech,” says Bopp. “Based on

this approach and holding, universities could prohibit on-campus student

clubs from spending their own money from advocating the election of a

presidential candidate, speaking out about the Iraq war, or protesting


I think Mr. Bopp has it exactly right. Universities have no legitimate interest in dictating to students how much of their own money they’re allowed to spend on campaigns for student government (or anything else).

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.