Like many public schools, the University of California – Hastings College of the Law allowed law students to organize student groups that could apply for university funding and other resources for group-related events. To be recognized as an official student group, all student groups were required to abide by Hastings’ policy on nondiscrimination. In 2004, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) filed a lawsuit against Hastings, arguing that the nondiscrimination policy violated the group’s First Amendment right to discriminate against LGBTQ and non-Christian students. NCLR represented Outlaw, the LGBTQ student group at Hastings, which intervened to defend the University’s policy. Hastings was represented by Ethan Schulman of Crowell & Moring LLP.
On March 17, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Hastings and Outlaw, rejecting CLS’s arguments that the school’s policy violated its rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association. The Court explained: “Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups‚–all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.” The Ninth Circuit’s decision affirmed an earlier ruling by United States District Court Judge Jeffrey White upholding the nondiscrimination policy against CLS’s First Amendment challenge.
On December 7, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States granted CLS’s petition for writ of certiorari and agreed to review the court of appeals’ decision. On June 28, 2010, in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the United States Supreme Court rejected the challenge to the University of California Hastings College of the Law’s policy of requiring all funded student groups to be open to all students.