High Court to Examine Funding for Student Groups at Public Universities

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Lambda supports gay student center -- argument on Tuesday, November 9, 10 a.m.
October 20, 1999

(NEW YORK, October 20, 1999) -- On behalf of a besieged student group at the University of Wisconsin, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund warned that free speech at public universities nationwide is at risk in the student-fee case being heard next month by the United States Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, November 9, the High Court hears argument in University of Wisconsin v. Southworth, an appeal of the ruling won by a group of conservative, fundamentalist law students who seek a refund of the part of their fees the school would provide to specific student groups they dislike, including Lambda's client, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Center.

Lambda attorneys Ruth E. Harlow and Patricia M. Logue, co-authors of Lambda's friend-of-the-court brief, will speak with reporters following the hearing.

"We are urging the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision to dismantle the university's activity fee system and give some students an ideological veto over funding for groups to which they object," said Harlow from Lambda's National Headquarters in New York. "It would chill free speech and cut valuable services on campus to let students opt out of fees that might support campus groups they dislike," she said.

Said Logue from Lambda's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago, "Free speech is precious in educational environments -- students thrive with the lively exchange of new and diverse ideas."

Noting the argument in Lambda's brief, Logue said, "Under the University's fee system, students are not compelled to fund any particular ideology -- rather they contribute to a neutral stage for free speech from all sides."

Like many public colleges across the country, the University of Wisconsin at Madison collects mandatory fees from all students in order to fund a diverse array of services and activities. The fundamentalist students, backed by the right-wing legal group Northstar Legal Center, initiated the lawsuit because they object to the University allocating funds to 18 student groups serving lesbians, gay men, women, people of color, and others.

The Lambda brief argues that the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which in August 1998 voided the University's funding system, failed to take into account the unique educational purpose of universities and misapplied legal standards originally developed for labor unions. Including the Center, Lambda represents 50 student groups from across the country as well as itself and the National Consortium of Directors of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resources in Higher Education.

Northstar has also sued the University of Minnesota in another student-fee case pending in the federal district court in Minneapolis. In Curry v. University of Minnesota, Lambda represents the Queer Student Cultural Center, La Raza Student Cultural Center, and University Young Women as friends-of-the-court.

    WHAT: The U.S. Supreme Court hears student-fee case, University of Wisconsin v. Southworth

    WHO: Lambda attorneys Ruth E. Harlow and Patricia M. Logue speak with reporters following hearing

    WHERE: United States Supreme Court, 1 First Street, NE, Washington, DC

    WHEN: Tuesday, November 9; argument begins at 10:00 a.m.

(University of Wisconsin v. Southworth, No. 98-1189)


Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager); Ruth E. Harlow 212-809-8585 x 210; Patricia M. Logue 312-663-4413 x 30


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