College Republicans will pursue 'all legal options' to get Mike Pence event approved, group says

The Stanford College Republicans appealed to the Constitutional Council after the University Senate rejected a funding request for a Mike Pence event next month.

Audio from the December meeting point toward viewpoint discrimination being a factor.

In November, Stanford’s Undergraduate Senate denied funding for the College Republicans to host Mike Pence on campus next month. Now, the organization is calling out the viewpoint discrimination that purportedly led to that decision.

The College Republicans appealed the decision to the Constitutional Council on Jan. 11 and received assistance from the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in challenging the potential First Amendment violation.

As Campus Reform reported last month, the College Republicans requested $6,000 to host Mike Pence at Stanford University. The request was first denied in a closed session Nov. 29 by a 7-6 vote, and the funding was again denied during a Dec. 7 meeting.

The College Republicans’ request was the only Standard Grant to be rejected.

Stephen Sills, a Stanford College Republicans spokesperson, told Campus Reform that should a negative verdict be delivered, the group will be exhausting all legal options to keep the event on track.

”Irrespective of the ultimate decision, and in lieu of a prospective negative verdict, we are currently pursuing all legal avenues available should a negative verdict be delivered,” Sills said. 

Released audio footage of the December 7 meeting points toward viewpoint discrimination being a leading factor during the initial vote, FIRE claims. 

In the clip, student senators are heard discussing personal opposition to Pence during deliberations, as well as vocalizing approval of using “moral judgment” to determine where student funding is allocated.

“If you’re against the individual speaker, then I think it’s fine to vote in that way,” one senator said.

Another senator expressed concern over the campus community’s mental health, and urged the senate to take into consideration how Pence would “affect the health and well-being- emotionally, physically, and mentally- of students.”

”The senators’ decisions were largely driven by their opposition to who the speaker is, and each of the viewpoint0neutral issues, like public safety considerations, turned out not to be defensible,” Program Officer for the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Graham Piro told Campus Reform

”During the Dec. 7 senate meeting, for example, several student senators said that is acceptable to vote against the funding because of concerns about the campus response to Pence’s speech, or because they opposed a ‘propagation of ideals that may be harmful to marginalized students’ or may ‘emotionally’ or ‘mentally’ affect the wellbeing of others,” Piro said. 

Public health and safety were originally cited to be primary factors of concern for rejecting the request. However, the College Republicans agreed to modifications proposed to the event details in order to comply with public health protocols. 

New arrangements included capping attendance at 1,000 attendees, installing a mask mandate, conducting health checks for students, limiting entrance to Santa Clara County residence, and restricting the amount of non-student attendees. 

“The senate [sic] must reverse its decision here,” FIRE urged in a news release. “The vote would not be an endorsement of Pence’s views, nor agreement with what he will say, but merely a reflection that the College Republicans have met the criteria for funding, and that the senate recognizes the importance of viewpoint-neutrality in its decision-making.”

FIRE continued to equate student safety concerns to being a reaction to Pence’s appearance rather than genuine concern about public health, and acknowledges that this, too, would be “unacceptable grounds” to reject funding that would “establish a chilling precedent for other student groups.”

The Constitutional Council has been relevant in pushing the University Senate to adopt fair practices toward conservative speakers in past attempts. 

In 2019, the senate was prompted to reverse their original decision and granted funding for the College Republicans to host Dinesh D’Souza on campus. 

While the case has been heard by the Council, FIRE noted that it is the responsibility of the senate to abide by viewpoint-neutral standards and, thus, should reverse their ruling.

“The modified event should be approved by the Constitutional Council, but it shouldn’t have to come to that — the senate must reverse itself,” FIRE insisted.

When asked when a ruling will be made, the Constitutional Council Chair referred Campus Reform to the council’s Rule of Order which stipulates a decision is to be released within seven days of the trial. 

Campus Reform has reached out to FIRE, the College Republicans, and Stanford University for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

Follow @AlexaSchwerha1 on Twitter