U.S. Dept. of Justice files 'Statement of Interest' in UM free speech lawsuit | Michigan Radio
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U.S. Dept. of Justice files 'Statement of Interest' in UM free speech lawsuit

Jun 11, 2018

University of Michigan (file photo)
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A group suing the University of Michigan in a free speech case is now getting support from the Trump administration.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs in Speech First, Inc., v. Schlissel Monday.

At issue is U of M’s disciplinary codes that prohibit “harassment” and “bullying.” The suit claims the policy is “vague,” limiting students' freedom of speech on campus.

A university spokesman says the lawsuit is painting a “false portrait of speech” on campus by “seriously” misstating university policy.

The Justice Department’s “Statement of Interest” echoes the suit filed by Speech First. 

Devin O’Malley, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman, dismisses the suggestion that this case is not important enough for the federal government’s legal arm to step in.

“If we turned a blind eye to First Amendment rights on college campuses, then it’s only a matter of time before more and more rights of all individuals become infringed upon,” says O’Malley.

But U of M officials say the DOJ’s “Statement of Interest” filed in the case contains errors.

“Contrary to the department’s statement, the university’s Bias Response Team does not 'have the authority to subject students to discipline and sanction.' It provides support to students on a voluntary basis; it does not investigate claims of bias or discipline students in any way,” says U of M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.

The U of M case is one of four free speech on college campuses that the Justice Department is currently involved in.

“They are truly disturbing incidents and policies that are directly aimed at shutting down free speech,” says O’Malley.

At this point, all of the cases are still early in the legal process.