Board of Regents of U. of Wisconsin v. Southworth

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Status: Closed
Landmark Case
U.S. Supreme Court
Issues: Anti-LGBT Rulings, Laws and Amendments, Religious Exemptions

(Amicus) Historic case seeking to uphold a viewpoint-neutral student group system at public universities

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Seven conservative law students backed by a right-wing legal group sued the university as part of a national effort to de-fund minority campus groups, on the theory that students should not have to contribute to groups and causes they opposed. The students prevailed at the federal district court and the court of appeals. But, with reasoning that heavily reflected Lambda Legal’s amicus brief as well as our work with the university, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the first amendment rights of student groups at public universities, finding that students may be required to contribute to a viewpoint-neutral student group system that in turn contributes to the education of all students, whether they agree or disagree with the views expressed by some groups. The Court’s ruling was resisted on its return to the district court, which again ruled the fee system unconstitutional, but ultimately it was upheld by the court of appeals in 2002.


College is a time when many LGBT people find resources and support systems for the first time, often through an LGBT campus group. LGBT students also have the chance to join with others to express who they really are and to work for what they believe in.

Lambda Legal's Impact

Lambda Legal entered this case to protect the free speech and associational rights of all college students and to help thwart the latest in a long string of subsidized cases, over decades, to hinder LGBT campus groups. As a result of this case, LGBT groups throughout the country had their right to access student funds confirmed.