Her speech was initially scheduled for this Thursday, April 27th, but the school canceled when it said it couldn’t guarantee her safety due to specific and credible security threats. Coulter replied by threatening to come to campus anyway. Spooked by the prospect of yet another “anti-fascist” riot, Berkeley scrambled and offered her a “protectable venue” on May 2nd. No dice, said Coulter and her sponsors, the Young America’s Foundation and Berkeley College Republicans. May 2nd happens to fall during “dead week,” between the last week of classes and the first week of finals. Many students will either be off-campus or hunkered down studying for exams and won’t bother to attend a speech. The school, having failed to block her entirely, was now trying to bury her lecture by scheduling it for when no one will be around.
And so at last the lawsuits are flying. Hallelujah. Here’s the complaint. The key bit has to do with what the plaintiffs claim is an arbitrary policy the school and local PD have settled on for “high-profile speakers.”
Who qualifies as a “high-profile speaker” subject to Berkeley’s special daytime/venue rules?
Courts don’t like when state actors, such as public university administrators and police departments, set rules for speech that are vague, and they really don’t like it when those rules can be capriciously applied to suppress speech by people whose viewpoint is unpopular locally. The complaint here notes that Vicente Fox, a former head of state and therefore a “high-profile speaker” by anyone’s definition, was nonetheless allowed to speak on campus recently at 4 p.m., after the “curfew” imposed by the high-profile speaker policy. A former deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton was permitted to speak that same evening despite being pretty “high-profile” herself. Why does the policy apply to Coulter but not to them? Because, obviously, left-wing speakers run no risk of triggering a riot whereas right-wing speakers do. It’s not a “high-profile speaker” policy, it’s a “right-wing speaker” policy. That’s viewpoint discrimination. Will a court let Berkeley treat right-wing speakers differently if the school can show that its fears of political violence are reasonable and justified? If so, the “heckler’s veto” will have the force of law and conservative speakers will be able to be ghettoized to times (like “dead week”) when they’re less likely to attract attention.
Here’s Bill Maher on the “f***ing babies” at Berkeley who can’t tolerate the thought of Coulter doing her shtick on their campus for two hours. A lingering question: Did the sponsors of the speech check with the school about security issues before booking Coulter? Are they obliged to? Berkeley administrators claim they were blindsided by the April 27th date because YAF and the College Republicans never gave them a heads-up about possible dates before scheduling her At a minimum, the school needs to be given notice to prepare for a security situation involving a “controversial” (i.e. right-wing) speaker whose presence might result in the usual window-smashing by cretins.