Circuit Court Overturns Defunding of Student Newspaper

Defunding targeted satirical newspaper over content, court finds

US Supreme Court / Getty Images
July 25, 2019

In a victory for student press freedom, a Ninth Circuit appeals court found the University of California, San Diego's defunding of a satirical newspaper violated the constitutional rights protecting freedom of the press.

The school's student government had defunded all student media after the school's satirical newspaper published an article mocking "safe spaces" in 2015.

Now, the court has rejected the attempt at censorship, according to a news release from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

In 2015, UCSD's student government defunded all student media due to the satirical newspaper, known as "The Koala," publishing the controversial article satirizing safe spaces on campus.

Students had been sending complaints about The Koala's content to the university, according to a FIRE release from 2016. The complaints pushed the school's student government to try to find a way to censor the paper without violating any constitutional rights to speech or free press.

The student government decided to defund all student media, causing The Koala to file a lawsuit. In 2017, a lower court judge rejected the lawsuit, deciding that the defunding did not violate the newspaper's First Amendment rights.

An appeals court reversed the decision. The appeals court's ruling found that the lawsuit adequately proved the student government "singled out the press for disparate treatment." It also decided The Koala's article was "clearly protected speech" and the student government was retaliating directly against the newspaper because it objected to the newspaper's content.

"The Ninth Circuit's decision is a warning that university administrators should not try to find 'creative' ways around the First Amendment's protection of student speech, no matter how distasteful they might find the speech," Adam Steinbaugh, senior program director for FIRE, wrote in an email to the Washington Free Beacon. "If you find yourself trying to come up with new ways to censor students, you're walking yourself into legal liability."