Indian American attorney threatens to sue Berkeley over alleged denial of free speech

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California attorney Harmeet Dhillon adjusts her scarf before delivering the invocation at the 2016 Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: Reuters)

An Indian-American attorney and potential top level Trump nominee to the Justice Department, has threatened to sue University of California, Berkeley, over its cancellation of an event featuring controversial conservative speaker Ann Coulter.

Harmeet Dhillon, who is being vetted by the White House for the position of Chief of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, sent a letter April 21, to Stephen Sutton, the interim vice chancellor for student affairs at Berkeley, that her clients, Berkeley College Republicans, are being denied their First Amendment Rights, when the Regents decided to cancel the April 27 event Coulter was to speak at. Dhillon told News India Times she is not fielding media calls at this time.

Coulter was invited to speak at UC Berkeley’s campus by BridgeCal, a nonpartisan student group headed by an Pranav Jandhyala, a South Asian-origin student. Coulter was meant to be the counterpoint to a speech delivered April 17 at the university, by  liberal speaker, Maria Echaveste, a former advisor to Bill Clinton. That event took place on campus.

“Our clients meticulously followed University protocol in arranging for Ms. Coulter’s planned, on-campus speaking event,” Dhillon said.

The Young American’s Foundation issued a contract for this event to Pranav Jandhyala (BridgeCal) and Naweed Tahmas of Berkeley College Republicans, as co-sponsors of Coulter’s speech, on March 28. On April 3 – three and a half weeks before the scheduled event, BridgeCal was told that the Coulter event must be held off-campus, and would need to conclude before 3:00p.m. – different from the Echaveste event on campus, Dhillon recounts in her letter.

“Without any other viable option, our clients and Ms.Coulter conceded to the University’s arbitrary, pretextual and discriminatory time-and place restrictions which, on their face, violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Dhillon asserted in her letter.

On April 18, Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell assured BCR and BridgeCal that his office was securing a room on campus for the Coulter event.

“However, the very next day, you abruptly informed our clients that the Coulter event was cancelled due to the University’s alleged inability to “find a safe and suitable venue” for the event on the scheduled April 27th date,” the letter goes on to say, accusing authorities of trying to schedule the talks later in the year or even on days with the campus had few students around.

“UC Berkeley’s newfound flexibility strains credulity,” and describes some of its actions as “utter sham” and not even meeting the “smell test” of credibility.

“Surely a public institution of higher learning should be a crucible of challenging ideas and thought, not a kindergarten where wards of the state are fed a steady diet of pasteurized pablum,” she said.

Dhillon warned she would seek relief in federal court including claims for injunctive relief and damages if Berkeley did not provide a place on campus on the set date.

“You are on notice of potential imminent litigation, and should seek counsel on the University’s evidence preservation obligations immediately, as the destruction of any such evidence concerning the circumstances set forth above may lead to evidentiary or other sanctions in litigation,” Dhillon concluded.

The university has contended it is not able to provide adequate security on April 27, on “very specific intelligence regarding threats that could pose a grave danger to the speaker,” Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks is quoted saying in tampabay.com news online. There have been previous violent clashes on campus between protesters from the Left and the Right, when conservative speakers were invited.

 

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