Texas legislator shouted down at Texas Southern University law school; speech called off by university president for lack of central campus authorization [UPDATED]

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

KHOU-TV (Janelle Bludau) reports:

After dozens of protesters filed into [a Texas Southern University law school] event featuring [Texas state legislator] Briscoe Cain, they wouldn't allow Rep. Cain to speak, claiming he has ties to the Alt-Right and is anti-LGBT.

Rep. Cain was invited to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law by the Federalist Society to talk to the students about the recent legislative special session. Instead, the event was shut down before it even started.

"No hate anywhere, you don't get a platform here!" protesters yelled inside the room….

Protesters said Rep. Cain has ties to the Alt-Right, and is against the LGBT community, filing an amendment that denied funds for sexual reassignment surgery for inmates.

"Eventually, the protesters were removed," but then Cain was almost immediately stopped by TSU President Austin Lane.

Lane announced organizers did not take appropriate measures to schedule the speech.

"What you're seeing today is an unapproved event," Dr. Lane said.

The student Federalist Society leader (Daniel Caldwell) said that all the proper procedures were followed; Cain released this statement:

Today I attended an event scheduled by the TSU chapter of the Federalist Society a few months ago. I was greeted by campus officials, given a guest parking voucher, and brought into a room in which the administration had specifically requested the talk occur. Then Black Lives Matter came in and bullied the administration into ending the event. It's a sad day for universities across Texas whenever speech and a variety of views are prevented from being presented due to bullies.

The university responded (I quote today's response, rather than yesterday's less detailed one):

Statement on non-sanctioned University event

HOUSTON (October 10, 2017)—Texas Southern University welcomes free speech and all viewpoints on campus as part of our collegiate experience. A student event at TSU's Thurgood Marshall School of Law on October 9, 2017, ended early because it was not scheduled in accordance with University policy. The University has extended an invitation to Rep. Briscoe Cain to return to campus for deliberative dialogue at a University-approved event.

Texas Southern has more than 119 registered student organizations and clubs for students. Once campus administrators were made aware by our police department of a disturbance at the law school involving our students, they conducted a check of recognized student organizations, it was determined that The Federalist Society was not a sanctioned University organization and proper scheduling procedures were not followed. To view the full policy on campus organizations, please click here.

According to the Texas Southern University Student Code of Conduct, Section III, Freedom of Expression Policy:

"Texas Southern University is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged. The purpose of Texas Southern University's Freedom of Expression Policy is to provide for organized expressive activities to be conducted on the grounds of the University in a manner consistent with these principles. The University expects that persons engaging in expressive activities will comply with University policies and applicable local, state, and federal laws. Texas Southern University maintains its right to place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expressive activities. Additionally, any activities that are unlawful or disruptive to the normal operations of the University, including classes and University business activities, will not be tolerated. Groups or individuals engaging in disruptive activities or failing to comply with University policies and applicable local, state, and federal laws may face immediate removal from the campus and other appropriate actions by University officials and University police.

Freedom of Expression is applicable to students, faculty and staff, who wish to engage in extracurricular, organized expressive activities including public speaking, literature distribution, poster displays, sign displays, any other type of graphic exhibitions, expressive performances, petitioning, or similar noncommercial activities at locations on University property. These guidelines do not apply to official University activities. University grounds and buildings are reserved for use by Texas Southern University students, faculty, and staff, except as otherwise permitted by policies of the University. Expressive activities permitted under these guidelines do not imply official endorsement by the University. Groups or individuals engaged in expressive activities are responsible for the content of their expression."

TSU's vice president of student affairs is working with the student group to assist with registration process and procedures.

A few thoughts:

1. The student organizer reports that he had properly booked the event through the law school, and the dean's office at the law school tells me that "according to [law school] staff, they [the students] followed law school policy." The university's position is apparently that this approval for the law school isn't good enough, and that (A) all student groups throughout the university must book events through the university, and (B) any invited speaker will be cut off in the middle of his speech if the students had gotten only law school permission and not university permission.

2. I have never heard of a university stopping a speech by a legislator—especially a speech that appears to have been the result of good-faith scheduling, rather than some deliberately rogue appearance—because "procedures were not followed." It's hard for me to even imagine the UCLA chancellor, for instance, coming to the law school and cutting off an American Constitution Society-sponsored speech by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (or her state legislative equivalent) because the student group somehow hadn't gone through all the proper central campus procedures (especially if it had gone through the law school procedures).

A public university could, consistently with the First Amendment, have such a policy—interrupt and cancel on the spot all speeches by invited speakers, even if seemingly approved by an individual school or department, so long as clearance wasn't given by the university—if it is willing to administer it evenhandedly for all outside speakers. But it strikes me as a pretty poor policy for a university to have (a combination of excessive micromanagement, rudeness to the speakers, and a waste of the speakers' and students' time); and it would shock me that the university really would be prepared to administer it for all invitees.

Thanks to Professor Josh Blackman for the pointer.

UPDATE: Dallas News (Lauren McGaughy) reports:

James Douglas, interim dean of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at TSU, told The Dallas Morning News he's looking into why Deer Park Rep. Briscoe Cain's appearance was suddenly canceled after protesters showed up at the event Monday in Houston. Douglas said the law school's branch of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization with chapters across the county, cleared the event with him.

"We have a process here in the law school, and they went through our process," Douglas said of the Federalist Society. "The speaker had a First Amendment right to be heard by the students that invited him…."