561 U.S. 661 (2010), 08-1371, Christian Legal Society Chapter of University of California v. Martinez

Docket Nº:08-1371.
Citation:561 U.S. 661, 130 S.Ct. 2971, 177 L.Ed.2d 838, 78 U.S.L.W. 4821
Opinion Judge:Ginsburg, Justice .
Attorney:Michael W. McConnell, Stanford, CA, for petitioner. Gregory G. Garre, Washington, DC, for respondents. Kimberlee Wood Colby, Christian Legal Society, Springfield, VA, Gregory S. Baylor, Timothy J. Tracey, M. Casey Mattox, Alliance Defense Fund, Washington, DC, Michael W. McConnell, Stanford, CA, ...
Judge Panel:GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, KENNEDY, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., and KENNEDY, J., filed concurring opinions. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined. Stevens; Kennedy Justice ST...
Case Date:June 28, 2010
Court:United States Supreme Court

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561 U.S. 661 (2010)

130 S.Ct. 2971, 177 L.Ed.2d 838, 78 U.S.L.W. 4821



Leo P. MARTINEZ et al.

No. 08-1371.

United States Supreme Court

June 28, 2010

Argued April 19, 2010


[177 L.Ed.2d 844] [130 S.Ct. 2973] Syllabus [*]

Respondent Hastings College of the Law (Hastings), a school within the University of California public-school system, extends official recognition to student groups through its "Registered Student Organization" (RSO) program. Several benefits attend this school-approved status, including the use of school funds, facilities, and channels of communication, as well as Hastings' name and logo. In exchange for recognition, RSOs must abide by certain conditions. Critical here, all RSOs must comply with the school's Nondiscrimination Policy, which tracks state law barring discrimination on a number of bases, including religion and sexual orientation. Hastings interprets this policy, as it relates to the RSO program, to mandate acceptance of all comers: RSOs must allow any student to participate, become a member [130 S.Ct. 2974] or seek leadership positions, regardless of her status or beliefs.

At the beginning of the 2004–2005 academic year, the leaders of an existing Christian RSO formed petitioner Christian Legal Society (CLS) by affiliating with a national Christian association that charters student chapters at law schools throughout the country. These chapters must adopt bylaws that, inter alia, require members and officers to sign a "Statement of Faith" and to conduct their lives in accord with prescribed principles. Among those tenets is the belief that sexual activity should not occur outside of marriage between a man and a woman. CLS interprets its bylaws to exclude from affiliation anyone who engages in "unrepentant homosexual conduct" or holds religious convictions different from those in the Statement of Faith. Hastings rejected CLS's application for RSO status on the ground that the group's bylaws did not comply with Hastings' open-access policy because they excluded students based on religion and sexual orientation.

CLS filed this suit for injunctive and declaratory relief under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that Hastings' refusal to grant the group RSO status violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court ruled for Hastings.

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The court held that the all-comers condition on access to a limited public forum was both reasonable and viewpoint neutral, and therefore did not violate CLS's right to free speech. Nor, in the court's view, did Hastings impermissibly impair CLS's right to expressive association: Hastings did not order CLS to admit any student, nor did the school proscribe any speech; Hastings merely placed conditions on the use of school facilities and funds. The court also rejected CLS's free exercise argument, stating that the Nondiscrimination Policy did not single out religious beliefs, but rather was neutral and of general applicability. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, ruling that the all-comers condition on RSO recognition was reasonable and viewpoint neutral.


1.The Court considers only whether a public institution's conditioning access to a student-organization forum on compliance with an all-comers policy violates the Constitution. CLS urges the Court to review, instead, the Nondiscrimination Policy as written-prohibiting discrimination on enumerated bases, including religion and sexual orientation. The [177 L.Ed.2d 845] policy's written terms, CLS contends, target solely those groups that organize around religious beliefs or that disapprove of particular sexual behavior, and leave other associations free to limit membership to persons committed to the group's ideology. This argument flatly contradicts the joint stipulation of facts the parties submitted at the summary-judgment stage, which specified: "Hastings requires that [RSOs] allow any student to participate, . . . regardless of [her] status or beliefs. For example, the Hastings Democratic Caucus cannot bar students holding Republican political beliefs ___" This Court has long recognized that parties are bound by, and cannot contradict, their stipulations. See, e.g., Board of Regents of Univ. of Wis. System v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217, 226, 120 S.Ct. 1346, 146 L.Ed.2d 193. The Court therefore rejects CLS's attempt to escape from the stipulation and shift its target to Hastings' policy as written. Pp. 2982-2984, 177 L.Ed.2d, at 852-854.

2. The all-comers policy is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the RSO forum; it therefore does not transgress First Amendment limitations. Pp. 2984-2995, 177 L.Ed.2d, at 854-866.

[130 S.Ct. 2975](a) The Court's limited public forum decisions supply the appropriate framework for assessing both CLS's free-speech and expressive-association claims; those decisions recognize that a governmental entity, in regulating property in its charge, may impose restrictions on speech that are reasonable in light of the purposes of the forum and viewpoint neutral, e.g., Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 829, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 132 L.Ed.2d 700. CLS urges the Court to apply to its expressive-association claim a different line of cases—decisions in which the Court

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has rigorously reviewed restrictions on associational freedom in the context of public accommodations, e.g., Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 623, 104 S.Ct. 3244, 82 L.Ed.2d 462. But, because CLS's expressive-association and free-speech arguments merge—who speaks on its behalf, CLS reasons, colors what concept is conveyed—it makes little sense to treat the claims as discrete. Instead, three observations lead the Court to analyze CLS's arguments under limited-public-forum precedents.

First, the same considerations that have led the Court to apply a less restrictive level of scrutiny to speech in limited public forums, as compared to other environments, apply with equal force to expressive association occurring in a limited public forum. Speech and expressive-association rights are closely linked. See id., at 622, 104 S.Ct. 3244, 82 L.Ed.2d 462. When these intertwined rights arise in exactly the same context, it would be anomalous for a speech restriction to survive constitutional review under the limited-public-forum test only to be invalidated as an impermissible infringement of expressive association. Second, the strict scrutiny the Court has applied in some settings to laws that burden expressive association would, in practical effect, invalidate a defining characteristic of limited public forums—the State's authority to "reservte] [them] for certain groups." Rosenberger, 515 U.S., at 829, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 132 L.Ed.2d 700. Third, this case fits comfortably within the limited-public-forum category, for CLS may exclude any person for any reason if it forgoes the benefits of official recognition. The [177 L.Ed.2d 846] Court's expressive-association decisions, in contrast, involved regulations that compelled a group to include unwanted members, with no choice to opt out. See, e.g., Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640, 648, 120 S.Ct. 2446, 147 L.Ed.2d 554. Application of the less-restrictive limited-public-forum analysis better accounts for the fact that Hastings, through its RSO program, is dangling the carrot of subsidy, not wielding the stick of prohibition. Pp. 2984-2986, 77 L.Ed.2d, at 854-857.

(b) In three cases, this Court held that public universities had unconstitutionally singled out student groups for disfavored treatment because of their points of view. See Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 92 S.Ct. 2338, 33 L.Ed.2d 266; Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 102 S.Ct. 269, 70 L.Ed.2d 440; and Rosenberger. Most recently and comprehensively, in Rosenberger, the Court held that a university generally may not withhold benefits from student groups because of their religious outlook. "Once it has opened a limited [public] forum," the Court emphasized, "the State must respect the lawful boundaries it has itself set." 515 U.S., at 829, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 132 L.Ed.2d 700. It may "not exclude speech where its distinction is not reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum, ... nor may it discriminate against speech on the basis of ... viewpoint." Ibid. Pp. 2987 – 2988, 177 L.Ed.2d, at 857-859.

(c) Hastings' all-comers policy is reasonable, taking into account the RSO forum's function and "all the surrounding circumstances."

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Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense & Ed. Fund, Inc., 473 U.S. 788, 809, [130 S.Ct. 2976] 105 S.Ct. 3439, 87 L.Ed.2d 567. Pp. 2988-2993, 177 L.Ed.2d, at 859-864.

(1)The Court's inquiry is shaped by the educational context in which it arises: "First Amendment rights must be analyzed in light of the special characteristics of the school environment." Widmar, 454 U.S., at 268, n. 5,102 S.Ct. 269, 70 L.Ed.2d 440. This Court is the final arbiter of whether a public university has exceeded constitutional constraints. The Court has, however, cautioned courts to resist "substitut[ing] their own notions of sound educational policy for those of . . . school authorities, " for judges lack the on-the-ground expertise and experience of school administrators. Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690. Because schools enjoy "a significant measure of authority over the type of officially recognized activities in which their students participate, " Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226,...

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