Republican students sue to allow Ann Coulter's speech this week at UC Berkeley

A Republican student group on Monday filed a lawsuit demanding that UC Berkeley allow conservative pundit Ann Coulter to speak on campus Thursday as originally planned.

Citing unspecified threats, administrators had rescheduled Coulter’s appearance for May 2, when they said the university could provide adequate security.

But in its free-speech lawsuit, the Berkeley College Republicans — which planned to host Coulter — called that date a “sham” intended to ensure her address was poorly attended.

According to Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer representing the students, Berkeley has adopted an unwritten policy under which it declares certain speakers as “high profile” and then restricts when and where they can appear on campus.

The day offered to Coulter falls during “dead week,” when students are studying for final exams and the campus traditionally is deserted. The university also had said Coulter would have to speak at midday, in a science hall located away from the central campus, rather than during the evening.

“If you can host Supreme Court justices of the United States, if you can host Bill Maher … surely you can host a controversial talking head pundit,” said Dhillon, who also is a member of the state Republican National Committee.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeks an injunction against Berkeley’s enforcement of its policy regarding speakers.

A university spokesman on Monday said no such policy exists.

“Nobody here understands what they are referring to,” Dan Mogulof said, adding that there was no “cookie-cutter” approach to dealing with campus event requests. In the case of Coulter, the spokesman said, university officials felt those who might show up to protest her posed a risk.

Coulter has said she intends to speak Thursday whether or not her appearance is sanctioned. Dhillon said the groups that originally invited her have not determined if they will be party to that. “They’ll have to make that decision on that day,” the lawyer said.

The primary financial sponsor for Coulter’s Berkeley appearance — the Young America’s Foundation, a national conservative nonprofit — is a party to the lawsuit. Coulter’s fee is listed on the organization’s website as in excess of $20,000.

A February event hosted by the Berkeley College Republicans featuring right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was closed down before it even began due to violent street protests. That and two subsequent political demonstrations at Berkeley have resulted in multiple injuries and arrests.

In early March, the mayor’s office and Berkeley Police Department reached an agreement with the university that events involving high-profile speakers would take place only during the daytime, according to a campus police email filed in the court documents.

Other emails included with the legal filing show that Berkeley administrators objected more to the time of day of Coulter’s address than the original Thursday date.

In one communication with student organizers, an official said campus police had cited “safety and security issues” not just for those attending her speech but also for the surrounding community. It recommended that the event conclude by 3 p.m., a deadline students said was too early.

In the same email, the administrator suggested organizers either push back Coulter’s appearance to the following week, or reschedule it for next fall to provide “an environment that is secure and prepared for productive dialogue across differences of viewpoint.”

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paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

4:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the lawsuit.

This article was originally published at 2:55 p.m.

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