Tarrant County College Ordered to Pay $240,000 After Losing Battle Against the First Amendment

William Creeley, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), October 15, 2010

Attention, college administrators: Attempting to defend your institution’s unconstitutional speech code in court is very, very expensive. Unfortunately for Texas taxpayers, Tarrant County College (TCC) is the latest school to learn this lesson the hard way. About 240,000 times harder than it needed to be, in fact.

Torch readers will remember that back in March, TCC’s speech code was found unconstitutional as a result of litigation coordinated by FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-TX). FIRE and the ACLU-TX worked with Fort Worth attorney Karin Cagle to bring a constitutional challenge to TCC’s speech code on behalf of student Clayton Smith and John Schwertz, members of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus who had repeatedly been forbidden by TCC to hold an “empty holster” protest on campus. {snip}

{snip} Just two days after the complaint was filed in November 2009, a federal district court judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting TCC from quarantining protected speech to the school’s tiny “free speech zone,” holding that continued operation of the free speech zone would result in “immediate and irreparable injury” to students’ free speech rights. In December, facing obvious defeat, TCC voluntarily dismantled its free speech zone, but also introduced an unconstitutional ban on “cosponsorship,” which forbade students and faculty from holding campus events in association with any “off-campus person or organization.” Smith’s and Schwertz’s suit was amended to challenge this new policy, and in a March 2010 ruling, the district court struck this restriction down, too, stating that “the Court cannot imagine how the provision could have been written more broadly.”

{snip} after extensive briefing, the court denied defendants’ motions for still lower rates and awarded Cagle, her fellow counsel David Broiles, and the ACLU-TX a total of over $240,000 in attorney’s fees.

{snip}

We hope this pricey defeat prompts other institutions to think twice before they pick a fight with the First Amendment.

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