Board of Regents of Univ. of Wis. System v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217 (2000)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 98-1189. Argued November 9, 1999—Decided March 22, 2000

Petitioner, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System (hereinafter University), requires students at the University's Madison campus to pay a segregated activity fee. The fee supports various campus services and extracurricular student activities. In the University's view, such fees enhance students' educational experience by promoting extracurricular activities, stimulating advocacy and debate on diverse points of view, enabling participation in campus administrative activity, and providing opportunities to develop social skills, all consistent with the University's broad educational mission. Registered student organizations (RSO's) engaging in a number of diverse expressive activities are eligible to receive a portion of the fees, which are administered by the student government subject to the University's approval. The parties have stipulated that the process for reviewing and approving RSO applications for funding is administered in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. RSO's may also obtain funding through a student referendum. Respondents, present and former Madison campus students, filed suit against the University, alleging, inter alia, that the fee violates their First Amendment rights, and that the University must grant them the choice not to fund RSO's that engage in political and ideological expression offensive to their personal beliefs. In granting respondents summary judgment, the Federal District Court declared the fee program invalid under Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U. S. 209, and Keller v. State Bar of Cal., 496 U. S. 1, and enjoined the University from using the fees to fund any RSO engaging in political or ideological speech. Agreeing with the District Court that this Court's compelled speech precedents control, the Seventh Circuit concluded that the program was not germane to the University's mission, did not further a vital University policy, and imposed too great a burden on respondents' free speech rights. It added that protecting those rights was of heightened concern following Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, because if the University could not discriminate in distributing the funds, students could not be compelled to fund organizations engaging in political and ideological speech. It extended the District Court's order and enjoined the University from requiring students to pay that


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