Sunday, May 4, 2008

CASE BRIEF: UWM Post v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin (1991)

UWM Post v.
Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin (1991)

Title and citation

UWM Post v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin,
774 F. Supp. 1163 (E.D. Wis. 1991)


This case involved a hate speech code that was intentionally reworked and clarified following the University of Michigan decision - it was clear and narrow, explicitly stating the behaviors and speech that were off-limits as part of the code. Still, a suit was filed against the University within a year of the policy’s inception, by the student newspaper. The newspaper, the UWM Post, argued that the policy was overbroad and vague, which violated their free expression rights. The University rebutted that the policy fell under the umbrella of fighting words, and that the court could narrow it if it was found to be overbroad.


1. Is the code overbroad or vague?


1. Yes; the code does not fall under the fighting words umbrella, and does not specify whether intent is required in the instance of fighting words.


The court determined that the code was overbroad and vague, and did not fit the requirements of the fighting words doctrine (fighting words being speech that will likely lead to a breach in the peace, not just speech that harms) - the code was also vague because it didn’t clarify whether intent to create a breach of peace would count as fighting words, or if a hostile environment must actual be created by the speech to count as fighting words.


The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the UWM Post.


Even though the aforementioned code was revamped after the Michigan decision, it was still too broad and too vague to be constitutionally protected. This demonstrates just how specific and definitive these codes must be in order to hold up to court scrutiny.

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