Students may sue University of Wisconsin for viewpoint discrimination in allocation of activity fees

WISCONSIN — The plaintiffs in the University of Wisconsinstudent fees case, which was decided by the Supreme Court in March,will be permitted to argue that the university’s student fee distributionsystem is not viewpoint-neutral, according to a Nov. 9 rulingby a federal judge.

District Judge John C. Shabaz allowed students suing the Universityof Wisconsin over its student fee distribution system to amendtheir complaint after the Supreme Court said the collection ofmandatory student fees by universities is constitutional as longas the system by which the money is distributed is viewpoint-neutral.

In that case, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsinv. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217 (2000), the students claimed itwas unconstitutional for public universities to compel studentsto help fund groups they disagree with on religious, politicalor ideological grounds. After the Supreme Court ruled againstthem, they changed their complaint to argue that the fee systemsdo not meet the Court-imposed viewpoint-neutrality standard.

The University of Wisconsin objected to the court allowingthe students to amend their complaint, arguing that they intentionallyrelinquished a claim that the system was not viewpoint-neutraland thus should be held to that decision.

Shabaz disagreed, saying,"Post-Southworth,a challengeto the collection of fees necessarily entails challenging theirdistribution to others."

Student press advocates have watched this case closely becausemany college newspapers are funded by student fees. In the past,student papers have lost or been threatened with the loss of fundingbecause of stories they have published, an action which couldbe considered a form of viewpoint discrimination.