Iowa State's Attempt To Violate Its Students First Amendment Rights To Cost State Nearly $400k In Damages
from the money-well-spent dept
In the early part of 2017, we brought you the story of an Iowa State University student group pushing for marijuana reform in the state that was being targeted by the university for trademark infringement after the group used some school iconography on t-shirts it developed for its cause. The whole episode was fairly bonkers, with the school initially approving the students’ use of the imagery, only to rescind that approval after Iowa House Republicans sent a letter to the school’s leadership questioning the decision. That sort of infringement of speech by a school and, in the background, by state legislators that really should have known better, was always destined to result in legal proceedings, given the enormous First Amendment implications. Well, as we reported, that trial ran its course, including an appeal, and was decided in the favor of the student group.
While all of that was settled last year, what we didn’t know until recently is just how much taxpayer money would be paid out as a result of a public university and state legislators seeking, quite plainly, to infringe on perhaps the most sacred right this country enjoys. Now we have an answer to that question: at least $350,000.
The State Appeal Board voted to pay $150,000 in damages to two leaders of the university chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws whose free-speech rights were violated by campus administrators. The board also approved a $193,000 payment to two law firms that represented the group for their efforts to defend against the university’s unsuccessful appeals, and additional legal fees for their trial work in an amount to be decided by a judge.
The costs stem from what federal judges found were the university’s politically motivated, illegal attempts to ban T-shirt designs that featured the Iowa State mascot and a small cannabis leaf — and its yearslong, unsuccessful defense of those efforts in court. The payouts will come from the state’s general budget.
I will be severely disappointed in the state of Iowa if every House member that signed that letter to the school doesn’t have campaign ads running against them highlighting the fact that this plainly unconstitutional action cost state taxpayers at least well over a quarter of a million dollars. Especially when you consider that the legal team for the student group practically begged the school to settle early on to avoid exactly these kinds of costs.
And that $350k figure is almost certainly just a starting point and not what the ultimate payout from the state will be.
“It is an unambiguous win for our clients and for the First Amendment and for an understanding that violating people’s rights isn’t free,” said the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Robert Corn-Revere. “One reason we urge universities to settle early is to avoid these kinds of expenses.”
He said he expects to request a fee award that is “substantially more” for trial work than the $193,000 awarded for the appeals, based on the amount of time spent. The deal requires the state to increase the amount awarded by $15,000 to compensate lawyers for their time spent on the fee application. The costs do not include work by the taxpayer-funded Iowa Attorney General’s office, which represented former ISU President Steven Leath and three other administrators who were found responsible for the constitutional violations.
All of this because a school decided not to tell a bunch of meddling lawmakers to piss off and instead bowed to their unconstitutional requests. That this reliance on taxpayer money to resolve this mistake is on everyone’s record will hopefully go some way to changes in job status for many of these people.