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Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth

Citation. 529 U.S. 217, 120 S. Ct. 1346, 146 L. Ed. 2d 193, 2000 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

College students are challenging the use of mandatory activity fees to support organizations that they do not support.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The First Amendment permits public universities to charge a student activity fee to fund a viewpoint neutral fund program for extracurricular student speech.


Southworth (Respondent) is a student at the University of Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin (Petitioner) collects $331.50 per year from each student. Eight percent of this money supports the student health services, athletics, and to maintain the student union. The other twenty percent supports registered student organizations, including those engaged in political or ideological speech. Respondent objects to the speech of some of these groups and does not want the fee to be used in such a manner.


Can Petitioner implement a mandatory student activity fee?


Yes. Petitioner may implement the fee payment system to support the educational mission and to foster a healthy environment of debate, a free exchange of ideas. However, the funding of particular groups must be viewpoint neutral to be constitutional. Here, it appears that the financial support for groups is based on majority vote of the student body. This runs afoul of the United States Constitution because it blocks the unpopular views from being treated the same as the majority views.


Use public forum analysis in this case because of the similarity in circumstance. Instead of demanding support the Respondent is requesting exemption from speech. Because the funding program is content neutral the students have a protected right to exclusion.

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