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Court awards attorney fees in Southworth v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

ADF official comment

MADISON, WI— This past Friday was a day to remember for Captain Scott Southworth, a unit commander in the Wisconsin National Guard 32nd Military Police Company.  

Southworth’s unit returned on Friday from more than a year of rigorous duty in Iraq and the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit handed down the latest opinion in Southworth v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.  Captain Southworth, then a student at the University of Wisconsin, was the plaintiff in the lawsuit when it was filed in 1996.  The lawsuit challenged the unfair nature of mandatory student fees used to support controversial campus groups. 

On Friday the court awarded attorneys’ fees to those who represented Southworth. 

"Everyone pronounced this case dead, but Scott Southworth persevered through the toughest times, including a disappointing ruling by the Supreme Court that returned the case to the lower courts," said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund.  "Fortunately Scott Southworth was willing to persevere and stick with the case until the university changed its unconstitutional policies.  But it took eight years of litigation and legal representation through the Alliance Defense Fund."

The university appealed the case to the 7th Circuit, claiming that the students had not "prevailed" because the university amended its policies after it was sued.  

"The university tried to perpetuate a fee system that allowed student funds to be directed toward certain student groups, based on the views expressed by those groups," Lorence said.  "These were groups that received the most funding, including a radical environmental group, Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, or WISPIRG.  In this latest decision, the appeals court confirmed that the students clearly prevailed in this litigation.  They forced the university to conform to the United States Constitution."

The 7th Circuit previously held that some university procedures hid funding decisions based on viewpoint-discrimination.  The court also required the following of the university: 

  • Members of student government must vow not to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint
  • Allow funding religious groups and political groups and prevent the university from reinstating policies that excluded such groups from funding
  • Establish an actual appeals process
  • Record student government votes when funding is denied to an applicant group, and to state in writing why they denied funding to a group
  • To not reinstate the referendum process, which allowed a majority of students to force other students to fund their advocacy

The 7th Circuit opinion can be read here.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.