Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Martinez

PETITIONER: Christian Legal Society Chapter of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, aka Hastings Christian Fellowship
RESPONDENT: Leo P. Martinez, et al.
LOCATION: Hastings College of Law

DOCKET NO.: 08-1371
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 561 US 661 (2010)
GRANTED: Dec 07, 2009
ARGUED: Apr 19, 2010
DECIDED: Jun 28, 2010

Gregory G. Garre - for the respondents
Michael W. McConnell - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The Christian Legal Society Chapter of the University of California, Hastings College of Law (CLS) filed suit against the university in a California federal district for violating its First Amendment rights. The Hastings College of Law failed to recognize the CLS as an official student organization because state law requires all registered student organizations to allow "any student to participate, become a member, or seek leadership positions, regardless of their status or beliefs." In contrast, CLS requires its members to attest in writing that "I believe in: The Bible as the inspired word of God; The Deity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, God's son; The vicarious death of Jesus Christ for our sins; His bodily resurrection and His personal return; The presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration; [and] Jesus Christ, God's son, is Lord of my life." The district court dismissed the case.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the school's conditions on recognizing student groups were viewpoint neutral and reasonable. Therefore, the school's conditions did not violate the CLS's First Amendment rights.


Did the Ninth Circuit err when its holding runs directly contrary to the Seventh Circuit's 2006 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Walker?

Media for Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Martinez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 2010 in Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Martinez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 28, 2010 in Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Martinez

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

In case 08-1371 Christian Legal Society versus Martinez.

Justice Ginsburg has the opinion of the Court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case presents a novel First Amendment question, may a public law school condition official recognition of a student group, on the group’s agreement to open membership to all students, who want to join.

We hold that a law school may maintain such an open access policy to meet First Amendment measurement the school need not provide a religion based exception.

Respondent Hastings College of Law is a state operated law school, part of the University of California system.

Hastings extends official recognition to student groups through its “Registered Student Organization” or RSO program.

Several benefits attend RSO status, prime advantages of RSO qualification in addition to access to school facilities and methods of communicating with students.

There are subsidies for the organizations events.

This funding comes from mandatory, student activities fees, imposed without exception, on all students.

To gain recognition, RSO’s must agree to comply with Hastings Nondiscrimination Policy, that policy tracking California Law, bars discrimination on several bases including religion and sexual orientation.

Hastings interprets the policy to require RSO’s to accept all-comers.

For example, as the parties have stipulated to be true, a Democratic group cannot exclude students holding Republican political police.

Hastings policy is not unique, other law schools, for example, Georgetown University Law Center adhere to similar all-comers policies.

At the beginning of the 2004 academic year, petitioner Christian Legal Society or CLS sought to become an RSO at Hastings.

CLS accepts as members only students who share the society’s religious beliefs and views about sexual conduct.

Because CLS does not welcome all-comers, Hastings refused to grant it, RSO status but allowed the society to engage in expressive activities on campus using CLS’s own resources.

CLS filed suit contending that the First Amendment required Hastings to accept the society as an RSO.

The District Court affirmed by the Court of Appeals granted summary judgment to Hastings.

We affirm the Ninth Circuit's judgment relying on the party’s stipulation of the undisputed facts we hold that Hastings all-comers policy does not unconstitutionally inhibit CLS’s freedom of speech or expression.

CLS asked us not to focus on Hastings’s all-comers policy but on the school's written Nondiscrimination Policy.

We decline to do so, CLS stipulated in no uncertain terms that Hastings embracive all-comers policy governs RSO’s because CLS is bound by that stipulation we consider only whether the all-comers policy complies with the Constitution.

This Court's decisions regarding limited public-forums provides the framework for our analysis.

A state creates such a forum when it confines use of its resources to certain groups.

State regulation of speech in a limited public forum must meet two conditions; it must be both reasonable in light of the forum’s purposes and viewpoint neutral.

Hastings’s all-comers policy we are satisfied meets these criteria.

First, the policy ensures that the educational and social opportunities afforded by RSOs are accessible to all students.

RSOs as I just noted, are eligible for financial assistance drawn from mandatory student activity fees.

The policy ensures that no Hastings student is forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member.

Second, the policy enables Hastings to police compliance with the written terms of its Nondiscrimination Policy, without inquiring into an RSO’s motivation for membership decisions.

Third, the policy to the extent that it brings together individuals with diverse beliefs, encourages tolerance, cooperation and learning amongst students.