Ninth Circuit Court Reverses Koala Case Decision

A screenshot of The Koala’s Spring 2010 issue 2 from their online archive.

The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s dismissal of The Koala’s claim that UC San Diego and Associated Students of UC San Diego (ASUCSD) violated the satire paper’s First Amendment rights by stripping student media of funding.

The Appeals court ruled on July 24 that the The Koala’s has sufficient claims for violations of the Free Press Clause, the Free Speech Clause, and First Amendment retaliation. The case was originally dismissed by a district court, which reasoned that the government may restrict speech in a limited public forum as long as the regulations do not discriminate against viewpoint and are reasonable in light of the forum’s purpose.

The Koala, a satirical newspaper where “nothing is off limits,” has caused controversy in the past for publishing jokes about the UCSD Sexual Assault Resource Center, Black students, and Muslims.

“This decision is really a victory for the student press as an institution,” said David Loy, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Courts. “The principles at stake are not at all limited to The Koala or the kind of newspaper The Koala publishes.”

Filed by the San Diego ACLU in May 2016, the suit names The Koala as the plaintiff and Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, the ASUCSD President, and the ASUCSD Financial Controller as defendants. The ACLU suit claims that ASUCSD violated the First Amendment by stripping student press organizations of their revenue, despite continuing to financially support other student speech.

ASUCSD eliminated funding for all UCSD student-funded media in November 2015. The vote passed shortly after a statement was signed by Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, as well as the Executive Vice Chancellor and other Vice Chancellors, denouncing The Koala as “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking, and cruel.” Many saw the decision as targeting The Koala.

The Koala says the decision to defund media was in retaliation of content published, such as a 2015 article satirizing “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” ASUCSD argues that the motive for stripping student media of funding is irrelevant since it was applied to all media organization and did not single out The Koala.

“If UCSD could get away with taking this type of action against The Koala that would set a precedent…to justify shutting down or retaliating against student newspapers that investigate or report on important news…[that] the university does not want exposed” said Loy.

Loy said that he is open for discussion with the university and will continue with the litigation process.

UC San Diego said that it does not comment on pending litigation, and The Koala, which hasn’t published since April 2018, could not be reached for comment before publication.

Mo Al Elew is a Senior Staff Writer for The Triton. You can follow him @solomune.

Correction July 25 at 10:45 a.m. A previous version of this article listed Loy’s title as American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Courts instead of counties. We apologize for this error.

Correction July 26 at 3:49 p.m. The previous correction was dated June 25 instead of July 25. We apologize for this error.