Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth
529 U.S. 217 (2000)
At UW, all students were
charged a mandatory 'student activity fee' as part of their tuition. This
fee was used to support student organizations.
Some of these student
organizations had political or ideological purposes (e.g. Young
Republicans, Students for Choice, etc...)
Some students, including Southworth
objected to having to pay to support groups they opposed. They sued,
claiming that the school was interfering with their 1st
Amendment right to free
Southworth was particularly
concerned about his fees going to "multi-cultural groups,
environmental groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered
Southworth pointed to
previous court decisions that forbid unions and professional associations
from using mandatory fees to support speech some members found
UW argued that the fees were
appropriate to support the education mission of the school.
The Trial Court found for
Southworth. UW appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court found
that as long as UW's program was viewpoint-neutral, it was constitutional.
So basically, as long as UW
gave money to any student group
that asked for it, there was no constitutional issue. If on the other
hand, they made some ideological judgment about who to give money to,
then that would not be constitutional.
They can differentiate
between groups based on how many members they have and what their needs
are, but they can't make funding contingent on the content of the
The Court found that since
universities are central to the 'marketplace of ideas', they are
different from unions and professional associations and therefore enjoy
different free speech protections.
"...the means of
implementing 1st Amendment protections adopted in those decisions are neither applicable
nor workable in the context of extracurricular student speech at a