Content Regulation / Censorship, Indecency / Obscenity
Reno v. ACLU
Closed Expands Expression
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The Appeals Court upheld a lower court decision that found disciplinary actions taken against a student for off-campus sexual harassment by his university to be unlawful. Navid Yeasin was expelled from the University of Kansas following an investigation by the University into the sexual harassment of a fellow student and former romantic partner; Yeasin appealed the decision to the University Judicial Board and subsequently to the District Court, which ordered the University to re-admit Yeasin but granted a stay pending appeal. The Appeals Court upheld the decision, finding that the Student Code did not permit the University to discipline a student for actions or speech that did not take place on campus.
Yeasin, a student at the University of Kansas brought this action against the University after his expulsion for sexually harassing “tweets” against the Victim, W. Yeasin and W were involved in a rocky romantic relationship. As the relationship began to deteriorate, Yeasin became increasingly hostile towards W. This involved threatening actions, and W’s filing of a criminal case against Yeasin which included a protection order. Thereafter, W complained of the activities to the University’s Office of Institutional Opportunity. While the Office was investigating the matter, Yeasin posted several threatening and sexually harassing tweets aimed at W.
After the Office’s investigation was completed, a hearing panel recommended expulsion and a campus ban until W graduated. The University followed the recommendation of the hearing panel.
Yeasin appealed the expulsion to the University Judicial Board, which denied the appeal. This was appealed to the District Court. The District Court found that because the conduct occurred off campus the University did not have jurisdiction to discipline Yeasin. The Court ordered the University to re-admit Yeasin, but granted a stay at the request of the University for the duration of this appeal.
The Court noted the University’s Student Code and sexual harassment policy were controlling as they related to the issues in this case. The Court further acknowledged that the Bill of Rights Section of the student code guaranteed the right to freedom of expression, but also protected the right of students to be free from harassment or discrimination based on sex. The University Code further allowed for the University to proceed against a student who violated a federal, state or local law, if the violation occurred on campus.
The University argued that even though these events did not occur on campus, Article 20 implicitly allows the University to extend its jurisdiction to students that engage in off-campus conduct. The Court, to determine whether the Student Code gives the University authority to discipline students for off-campus activity looked to the framework of the Student Code, noting that express authority must exist in the Code itself. Yeasin argued that Article 20 di not give the University jurisdiction in this matter because Article 20 was ambiguous and the disciplinary action was brought under Article 22.
To resolve the Conflict, the Court looked to the basic cannons of statutory interpretation. The Court first reviewed the legislative intent of the provisions, and whether that intent was clear in the language of the statute. In this case, the Court found the statute was clear and unambiguous. The Student Code only contemplated initiating disciplinary proceedings if they occurred on campus, and the interpretation the University argued would require the Court to add language to the Code. Thus, the University could not rely on Article 20 to obtain jurisdiction when all the other provisions of the Code explicitly stated that the violation must occur on campus to give the University jurisdiction.
Therefore, the Court found the District Court was correct in its determination that the Student Code did not give the University jurisdiction as the events complained of did not occur on campus.
The Court affirmed the lower court and lifted the Stay.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The judgment expanded expression, albeit in a limited University setting, since the case was adjudicated under the University’s Student Code and not the First Amendment or Title IX . The decision reiterated that Universities cannot penalize students for off-campus conduct, if their Student Codes do not permit it.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
As a decision of the Court of Appeals, this case binds all lower Courts.
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