Content-Neutral Speech Restrictions on Public University Campuses

Sonnier v. Crain (5th Cir. July 27) has an interesting discussion, in which the Fifth Circuit panel (by a 2-to-1 vote) defers considerably to universities’ prerogatives, even without deciding that the university locations are not public fora. The appellate court upholds the trial court’s denial of a preliminary injunction of a policy that required all public assemblies or demonstrations — even organized by small groups — to get a permit (1) for which seven days’ notice was required, (2) which would only be issued to each individual or group for two hours once per week, (3) for which the applicant had to provide various personal information, and (4) which was limited to a few specific locations around campus. The court repeatedly stressed that even though some such restrictions might be unconstitutional on city sidewalks and other such places, the university had broader authority to imposed content-neutral speech restrictions on its campus.

The court did note, however, that the plaintiff might still prevail in an as-applied challenge, after more discovery. Its reasoning is also limited to content-neutral speech restrictions.