ST. PAUL, Minn. Feb. 13, 2017—Today, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit unanimously upheld a federal district court’s decision to permanently bar Iowa State University (ISU) from using its trademark policy to prevent a campus student group from printing T-shirts advocating marijuana legalization.
Then-students Erin Furleigh and Paul Gerlich were officers with ISU’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML ISU) when they filed their lawsuit in July 2014, through the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. The group had multiple T-shirt designs rejected by the university and was subject to unusually heavy, politically motivated scrutiny when applying to use ISU logos under the school’s trademark policy.
The Eighth Circuit held that ISU administrators had engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, violating Furleigh and Gerlich’s First Amendment rights. The court found that once ISU made its trademarks generally available to student groups, it could not then deny their use based on the message of the group seeking to use them. In upholding the district court’s January 2016 ruling, the Eighth Circuit pointed to evidence that ISU subjected NORML ISU to “an unusual trademark approval process” after an article about the group in the Des Moines Register caught the attention of state officials.
“It’s really exciting to see such a strong unanimous decision coming out of the court, backing what we knew to be true from day one,” said Gerlich. “I’m excited that this case sets a precedent that protects students locally and throughout the nation.”
“We are gratified that the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the district court’s well-reasoned opinion,” said attorney Robert Corn-Revere, who represented the students with his Davis Wright Tremaine colleagues Ronald London and Lisa Zycherman. “The decision confirms that universities cannot grant or withhold benefits based on students’ political views. And that includes their trademark programs.”
“We are so pleased to see Paul and Erin’s victory unanimously affirmed by the Eighth Circuit today,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “Paul and Erin had the courage to stand up for their First Amendment rights, and thousands of students in seven states will now benefit from their commitment.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
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