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Volume 68, Issue 117, Monday, March 24, 2003


UH asks court to reconsider free speech ruling

Cougar News Staff

Five days after a U.S. District Court solidified its stance against UHis old "free speech zones" policy, defendants for the University filed a motion to reconsider the summary judgment that ruled in favor of the Pro-Life Cougarsi case.

The motion, filed March 18, refers to a similar case that was ruled upon in a District Court in Austin the same day as the summary judgment case ­ March 13.

The case in reference is similar to the Pro-Life Cougars case. The federal court in Austin was looking at a claim made by Justice For All against the University of Texas at Austin. The pro-life organization alleged that UTis policies regarding freedom of expression were unconstitutional. In this case, however, Judge James Nowlin favored the expression policies of the UT administration.

In the text of the UT case, the court wrote that the crusade Justice For All, the pro-life organization acting as plaintiff, to get UTis old policies marked as unconstitutional was no longer relevant.

"The old rules have been replaced by new rules. Moreover … there is no evidence that UTA intends to reenact the old rules," the court document says. 

At UH, the old expression policies were declared unconstitutional because they were deemed "vague" and allowed the UH administration "unfettered discretion" in accepting or denying requests to use University grounds for expression activities. Vagueness referred to the lack of clear standards or guidelines for what can be deemed "disruptive" to university activities.

In the UT case, the court found that unconstitutional vagueness did not exist in UTis policies, citing UT documents that give "a lengthy and explicit definition of ‘disruption.i"

No such definitions have been found in UHis old policy by the Houston district court.

Ultimately, the Austin court found that UTis policies "(do) not grant unfettered discretion to UTA officials."

Justice For Allis fight against UTis prior restraints took another blow when the court additionally noted that UTis policies are directed at reserving space for expression on campus, which is recommended, but not mandatory.

In July 2002, UH enacted a new set of rules and guidelines that have yet to be tested by the court. A case is pending, however.

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