Arizona Students Association v. Arizona Board of Regents

Posted on March 21, 2013 | Type: Case
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The Goldwater Institute is representing five public university students whose First Amendment rights were violated when the Arizona Students Association used mandatory surcharges on tuition bills to support a 2012 ballot initiative that the students opposed.

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Last step: Filed motion to intervene
Next step: Judge dismisses ASA lawsuit - free speech victory!


What happened to bring about this case?

In 2012, a Goldwater Institute investigative report found that the Arizona Students Association, a private non-profit student group funded by $2 tuition surcharges collected from public university students each semester, was directing significant resources to political activism,  including a $120,000 donation to Prop 204, a proposed $1 billion state sales tax increase on the November 2012 ballot.

The Arizona Board of Regents, a body which oversees Arizona's three public universities, voted in February to end the policy of mandatory tuition surcharges to the Arizona Students Association. The Regents' policy change has not eliminated funding for the Students Association altogether. Beginning in the fall of 2013, Arizona’s public universities will again collect $2 fees on tuition bills each semester, but the fee will not be automatically assessed—students will be given the choice to “opt in” to pay the fee.

The Students Association has sued the Regents over the recent policy change, hoping to reinstate the mandatory and automatically collected surcharge once again.

The Goldwater Institute is representing five students requesting to join the lawsuit to defend the Regents' decision, including state representative Paul Boyer, who, in his unofficial capacity as an Arizona State University graduate student, has been forced to pay the mandatory fee.  These students believe that the practice of mandatory dues-collection for the Student Association violated their First Amendment rights, because they were forced to subsidize political activity they opposed.

What are the key issues?

•The practice of mandatory dues-collection for the Arizona Students Association violated students' First Amendment rights by forcing them to subsidize political activity they don't support.

•The Arizona Students Association is a private organization, and it should compete for donations in the marketplace of ideas, just like other private political groups.

•The Students Association claims that under the previous policy, students who wished not to support its agenda could “opt out” by applying for a refund. However, that opt-out process could only be initiated after the tuition surcharge had been collected, and the request had to be made in writing within the first 21 days of the semester. In its annual budget, which exceeded half a million dollars, the Students Association set aside only $50 for student refunds.

•Arizona’s is not the only state university system to fund a private activist group through tuition surcharges. The practice still occurs today at universities throughout the country, including in California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Oregon.


March 22, 2013: Goldwater Institute files motion to intervene in case
July 31, 2013: Victory for students and free speech - judge dismisses ASA's lawsuit


Motion to Intervene (03/22/2013)
Motion to Intervene - Exhibit 1 (03/22/13)
Decision (07/31/13)

The Legal Team

Kurt Altman is a Senior Attorney for the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. Kurt has operated a private litigation and appellate practice, focusing on criminal law in both state and federal courts. Previously, Kurt spent a number of years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, leading investigations and conducting trial in Federal District Court.

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