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UConn Students Arrested for Racial Slur Last Year Now Suing School on First Amendment Grounds

UConn Students Arrested for Racial Slur Last Year Now Suing School on First Amendment Grounds

“A UConn spokeswoman said the university does not comment on pending litigation.”

This was crazy. If you’re not familiar, read the full back story here.

The Hartford Courant reports:

UConn students arrested in racial slur case sue university on First Amendment grounds

Two UConn students arrested last year for repeatedly shouting a racial slur outside an on-campus apartment building are suing the university, its president and other administrators, alleging their First Amendment rights are being violated.

In their lawsuit, filed in federal court Tuesday, Ryan Mucaj and Jarred Karal say the school is seeking to remove them from university housing as punishment for violating the student code of conduct, specifically a section on “disruptive behavior.”

“The Disruptive Behavior policy, as implemented and as written, is a de facto prior restraint, affording university officials essentially freewheeling and standardless discretion over speech as to content and viewpoint, as officials deem what speech falls within the policy and is impermissible,” the lawsuit reads. “The Disruptive Behavior policy is unconstitutionally overbroad, unlawfully restricting speech.”

A UConn spokeswoman said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

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Comments

This is amazing. The lawsuit is based not only on the first amendment, but also on a consent decree that UConn entered into in 1990, in which it specifically agreed to revoke its policy prohibiting “making personal slurs or epithets based on race…”, and further agreed to be permanently enjoined from “enforcing […] any other policy that interferes with the exercise of first amendment rights by the plaintiff or any other student, when the exercise of such rights is unaccompanied by violence or the imminent threat of violence”.

The complaint concludes “On information and belief, for between five and thirty years, the school and its officials and employees have disregarded their obligations under the consent decree, and has failed to take any reasonable precautions to ensure the order is followed or even that successive officials are made aware of its existence.”

The students’ arrest was also unconstitutional, but one of them has taken the easy way out and pleaded guilty and accepted probation rather than spend the time, emotional resources, and money to fight it. The other one is still fighting the criminal charge. But both are suing the university, which means even the one who decided to plead guilty still maintains that the charge was unconstitutional.

By the way their arrest was unconstitutional not only because it was for protected speech, which the state can’t ban, but also because the law they were charged with breaking doesn’t say what the police and prosecutors claim it says. Obviously the CT legislature cannot make a law against hateful speech, and indeed it didn’t. The law under which they were charged prohibits such speech only in advertising. Even there it’s of dubious constitutionality, but at the time it was passed it was generally believed that the state’s power to regulate advertising was much broader than it’s now understood to be.

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