On Tuesday, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of free speech in Matal v Tam, Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein defended the University of California, Berkeley at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, and suggested that colleges should not have to guarantee the right for controversial figures to speak on campus.
The hearing took place following several violent protests on college campuses where opposition to scheduled speeches decided to use physical intimidation and violence to suppress the free speech rights of conservative speakers.
In a back-and-forth debate with UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh over whether universities had a responsibility to handle security for controversial speakers, Feinstein seemed to suggest that universities should not be obligated to accommodate speakers if they don’t have the resources and believe the individual’s presence could spark violence.
“One of the problems that I have is that there is an expectation that the university handles it,” Feinstein said. “The handling of it, means that you have resources to be able to send and those resources know what to do. And particularly for the public university, and particularly for the University of California, there is a constant battle with the legislature over money. So the resources are not always what they might be,” she added.
Volokh contested that, in the case of public universities, local police forces should join campus authorities to maintain order.
“I would think that Berkeley police department would also be able and should be willing to lend police officers to help out,” Volokh said. “If we are in a position where our police departments are unable to protect free speech, whether it’s universities or otherwise, then yes, indeed, we are in a very bad position,” he added.
Feinstein then pressed Volokh over whether the university should be obligated to protect any speaker, regardless of the level of controversy and potential backlash they pose.
“Professor, let me just understand what you are saying. No matter who comes, no matter what disturbance, the university has to be prepared to handle it? It’s the problem for the university? That’s the argument you are making? You are making the argument that a speaker that might fulminate a big problem should never be refused?” she asked.
After acknowledging that there could be possible exceptions, Volokh suggested that the government does have an obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of its citizens.
“It’s not just the university it’s the government. It’s the job of the government. I am not the big believer of large jobs for the government, but one important job of the government is to prevent violence and to prevent violence without suppressing free speech,” he contended.
[image via screengrab]
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org