ISU asks Eighth Circuit to stop marijuana advocates from using the university’s logo

by Rox Laird | April 6, 2016

Iowa State University students advocating marijuana law reform won a First Amendment victory against the university in federal court in Des Moines in January. Now ISU wants to put that victory on hold while the university’s appeal is considered by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge James Gritzner ruled that ISU violated the First Amendment rights of student leaders of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) campus chapter when the university – based on the group’s political viewpoint – denied permission to use the school’s trademarked logos on NORML’s T-shirts and other materials depicting a cannabis leaf.

ISU appealed that ruling, and a flurry of preliminary motions and responses from the two sides presage a closely fought battle between students’ free speech and the university’s desire to protect its public image.

Not surprisingly, the two sides disagree on the need for a stay and issues central to the case.

The ISU defendants argue in the motion seeking a stay order that “ISU trademarks constitute government speech which they exclusively control and license in accordance with the overall goal of their trademark policies: to promote the image of the University.”

Unless the Court blocks enforcement of Judge Gritzner’s ruling, ISU says it would be “irreparably injured” because it would lose its right to control its own speech by allowing its trademarks to be associated with symbols of illicit drug use.

In response, the students say this case is not about trademarks or “government speech.” Rather, they argue, it is about “viewpoint discrimination” and how the university licenses its trademarks “when student organizations incorporate them into their speech.”

“The district court entered an injunction on summary judgment to prevent ISU from engaging in viewpoint discrimination in its trademark licensing program,” they say, and ISU’s motion for a stay pending appeal “seeks to allow ISU to continue discriminating on the basis of viewpoint until this Court decides the matter.”

What the Eighth Circuit decides on the motion for a stay might hint at how the appeals court judges see the issues. In any case, the final outcome won’t be known for several months after the case is briefed and argued.


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