University of Illinois seeks to dismiss free speech lawsuit against student reporters

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URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (Illinois News Network) – The University of Illinois wants a judge to toss a lawsuit filed by three student journalists who claimed the university violated their First Amendment rights when it issued no-contact orders to the students after an incident during a protest of President Donald Trump.

Andrew Minik and two other university students – Joel Valdez and Blair Nelson – sued the school over the restraining orders, which told them to stay away from graduate student Tariq Khan, effectively keeping them from further reporting the ongoing story.

Khan confronted the students at an anti-Trump rally in November, allegedly grabbing Valdez’s phone and throwing it. Khan was charged with misdemeanor criminal damage to property. That charge was dismissed after Khan completed a diversion program. The students’ lawsuit alleged their rights were violated because the no-contact orders were meant to silence their political views and kept them from reporting on the story, which was their job as reporters for Campus Reform. The students’ lawsuit also names Khan as a defendant.

The university wants the case dismissed based on jurisdiction issues. Lawyers for the university claim the Eleventh Amendment protects the university, a state institution, from a federal lawsuit brought by a civilian. The school’s attorneys have also said in court filings that the no-contact orders didn’t prevent the students from further reporting.

Minik’s attorney, Whit Brisky, partner at Mauck and Baker, said he is confident the case won’t get tossed. He said the school should protect all points of view.

“[The restraining orders] limit their ability to speak and to write on topics of public concern,” he said. “If one side is prevented from speaking and advocating, then you’re turning that institution into a propaganda institution.”

School officials declined to comment on the pending lawsuits, but Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs at the university, said in a statement that “the University is committed to protecting the rights of expression and speech of all members of our community.”

The students will respond Thursday to the dismissal request. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, where the suit is being heard, will not hold a hearing, but will read both sides’ arguments for the dismissal and then release a decision.

Khan filed a counter suit against the students claiming defamation. In his suit, he maintains that his personal information was given by Minik and others to hate groups. He’s seeking more than $50,000 in damages.

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