Student groups

Brian Close

With their financial futures in limbo, the three student groups named in a fees lawsuit await a ruling by a federal magistrate judge on whether they can become a separate party in the suit.
The Queer Student Cultural Center, La Raza Student Cultural Center and the University YW filed a motion for intervention last Thursday to allow them to participate in the student service fees suit. And the groups’ preliminary argument has already caught heat from the plaintiffs’ lawyer.
“Although we are fervently supporting the (Board of) Regents with their defense, we wanted to be at the table because our interests do differ from the University’s,” said Jennifer Molina, an executive board member of La Raza Student Cultural Center.
Five University students, who filed the lawsuit in federal court, claim the student fees structure is unconstitutional. The students argue the three groups, which they are forced to fund, engage in ideological advocacy.
The University maintains the plaintiff’s phrase — “engaged in political and/or ideological advocacy” — is vague and without legal meaning.
Lambda Legal Defense Fund, a Chicago-based firm, represents the three groups. Heather Sawyer, a lawyer for the fund, said the groups need representation to make sure their funding is continued, whereas the University is attempting to defend the student fees structure as a whole.
While the plaintiffs objected to the intervention motion, their attorney, Jordan Lorence, said it is likely to be granted.
During a teleconference between Magistrate Judge Jonathan Lebedoff and attorneys, Lorence said Lambda revealed its defense strategy, which he called “extreme.”
Lorence said Lambda will argue that once a student group is being funded, allowing students to opt out of funding the group would violate group members’ rights.
“If that’s the legal argument they are going to put forward, I think they are definitely going to lose this case,” Lorence said.
He said the argument would deem the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group negative check-off unconstitutional as well, an issue he said the University probably doesn’t want to confront.
But Sawyer words Lambda’s argument in a different way. She said once a student group has been created, the University must administer funds in a viewpoint-neutral manner.
With this argument, whether the groups engaged in ideological advocacy should not matter, she said.
“I think that whole inquiry is not relevant to the position we are forwarding,” she said.
University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said if the motion is granted, the student groups’ arguments in the case will be separate from the University’s. But both groups may take a position against the plaintiffs.
“We’re not responsible for the arguments they make, and they are not responsible for the arguments we make,” he said.
Rotenberg said if the student groups join the lawsuit, the arguments from all three parties would be taken under consideration when the judge or jury reviews the case.
He said he has not yet looked at Lambda’s arguments, but added that the University believes the MPIRG funding mechanism is lawful.
Lebedoff is expected to rule on the matter in the next few weeks.