Buttegieg Campaign Violates Free Speech Right of #Medicare4All Pamphleteer
Technically, Keene State College, a public college, violated the 1st amendment right of Norman Solomon who was passing out a pamphlet titled "“Medicare for All. Not Healthcare Profiteering for the Few.” But a Buttegieg staffer called campus police to arrest Mr. Solomon after Buttegieg spoke at an auditorium at Keene State.
But minutes after Pete Buttigieg finished speaking in an auditorium at Keene State College in New Hampshire on Saturday, a Pete for America official confronted me outside the building while I was handing out a flier with the headline “Medicare for All. Not Healthcare Profiteering for the Few.”
“You can’t pass that out,” the man told me. I did a double take, glancing at the small “Pete” metal badge on his lapel while being told that he spoke on behalf of the Buttigieg campaign. [...]
When I continued to pass out the flier, the Buttigieg campaign official (who repeatedly refused to give his name) disappeared and then quickly returned with a campus policeman, who told me to stop distributing the leaflet. Two Keene city police soon arrived.
The Buttigieg official stood a few feet behind them as the police officers threatened me with arrest for trespassing. Ordered to get off the campus within minutes or be arrested, I was handed an official written order (“Criminal Trespass Notice”) not to set foot on “Keene State College entire campus” for a year.
I understand why the staffer for Mayor Pete's campaign called the cops. The pamphlet directly accused both Biden and Buttegieg of distorting and denouncing Medicare for all: Here's what the pamphlet said about Buttegieg's position on healthcare:
Buttigieg is using the slogan “Medicare for all who want it,” which might sound good. But, as New Hampshire State Representative Mark King points out, “the idea of a public option such as ‘Medicare for all who want it’ continues to benefit the private insurance companies that can pick and choose who they cover. It would set the public option up for failure – and unfairly burden taxpayers – by inequitably shouldering the cost for those remaining, those most in need of healthcare.”
Representative King adds:
Sadly, Buttigieg is claiming that Medicare for All would dump people off of health coverage and deprive them of “choice.” He is deliberately confusing the current “choice” of predatory for-profit insurance plans with the genuine full choice of healthcare providers that enhanced Medicare for everyone would offer.
However, Buttegieg's campaign had no justification to call the police on Solomon, and Keene State's police were wrong to stop Solomon from passing out his pamphlet and forcing him off the campus. A similar case in California, where a public college that prevented a student passing out copies of the US Constitution in Spanish, was sued by the student. The US District Court for the Central District of California in Shaw.v Burke, et alia, ruled the college's policies violated the student's first amendment right to free expression. Some pertinent excerpts:
“The college classroom with its surrounding environs is peculiarly ‘the marketplace of ideas.’” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180 (1972). However, simply because the government owns property does not automatically mean that any individual may use it to express his or her First Amendment rights. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 117–118 (1972) (“Nowhere [have we] suggested that students, teachers, or anyone else has an absolute constitutional right to use all parts of a school building or its immediate environs for…unlimited expressive purposes.”). [...]
... Instead, in evaluating whether an area is a traditional public forum, courts evaluate:
1) the actual use and purposes of the property, particularly status as a public thoroughfare and availability of free public access to the area; 2) the area’s physical characteristics, including its location and the existence of clear boundaries delimiting the area; and 3) traditional or historic use of both the property in question and other similar properties.
Id. at 1100. The Court must also keep in mind that “[a] modern university contains a variety of fora.” Bowman v. White, 444 F.3d 967, 976 (8th Cir. 2006).
On Pierce’s campus, there are “open areas and sidewalks beyond the Free Speech Area where student speech, expressive activity, and distribution of literature would not interfere with or disturb access to college building or sidewalks….” (Compl. ¶ 54.) At the time administrators stopped Shaw from distributing Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution, he was alongside a “large thoroughfare called ‘the Mall’” and was not “disrupting campus operations or interfering with foot traffic.” (Id. ¶¶ 57–58.) These facts tend to establish the open areas of Pierce’s campus are a public forum.
Colleges and universities have argued they have the right to limit an individual's free expression rights, but the Supreme Court held such limitations bear a "heavy presumption of invalidity." Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123, 130 (1992).
Keene State obviously had no issue with granting Mayor Pete the right to speak on its campus. They have a policy, however, that severely limits free speech rights of anyone not running for President, and a history of banning individuals for exercising those rights from campus. Here's their policy, one that allows handing out written materials on campus, but only pursuant to regulations that are inherently vague and leave enforcement up to the discretion of campus officials:
Solicitation and distribution of literature in public areas of campus
Literature may be distributed on College property subject to the following provisions:
On College grounds, individuals and Keene State College community members may distribute literature provided that:
- The free flow of traffic (pedestrian or vehicular) at any point is not obstructed
- Distribution of literature activities shall be passive in nature and conducted between 8 a.m. and ￼￼10 p.m.
- Literature is not placed on vehicles parked on campus
- Tables or displays used to facilitate distribution do not block walkways or entrances to buildings. Tables or displays must be attended to at all times by the individual or group sponsoring the distribution
- All individuals/organizations shall refrain from littering in the area
Areas on campus not open to the activities described above shall include, but not be limited to, classroom and laboratory buildings, libraries, conference rooms, the residence halls, the gymnasium, and faculty, staff, or student offices.
- Free speech, solicitation, and distribution of literature shall not be permitted if it is determined that they threaten public safety or public property, or if they disrupt or threaten to disrupt vehicular traffic, pedestrian traffic, or any educational, administrative or outreach activity.
Much like the Shaw case, where campus administrators had no problem with anti-Trump protesters, but singled out Shaw for violating its free speech rules, Keene State was fine with Buttegieg, his supporters and staff exercising their free speech rights, but targeted Solomon expressly because he was handing out material critical of Buttegieg. If Mr. Solomon had been handing out pamphlets supportive of Buttegieg, does anyone believe the campus police would have evicted him from the campus, cited him for criminal trespass and banned him from their campus for a year?
I believe Keene State's actions to remove Solomon from its campus at the direction of Mayor Pete's campaign would not pass constitutional muster, and I hope Solomon sues them. More importantly, Buttegieg should be called on the carpet by the media for the actions of his staffer. Also, he should be confronted publicly about this matter, and asked why his campaign felt it was necessary to violate the free speech rights of a non-violent, peaceful individual who was merely passing out literature critical of his policies and campaign.
Because, why should we trust a Presidential candidate who deliberately violates the constitutional rights of anyone who criticizes him? Why should we trust him to not violate the Constitution once elected whenever he wants?