Ward Churchill's Bosses Should Face Liability, National Lawyers Guild Argues

September 12, 2011
Nathan Tempey
Communications Coordinator

The National Lawyers Guild filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief Monday on behalf of Ward Churchill, the tenured professor fired in retaliation for his essay response to the September 11 attacks.

The essay drew a storm of media coverage for its sharp criticism of American foreign policy, which in turn prompted a malicious investigation of Prof. Churchill by University of Colorado administrators. In 2009, a unanimous jury found that the university violated the First Amendment by firing Churchill, not because of alleged research misconduct, but because of his constitutionally protected speech. A district judge then vacated the verdict, declaring that the university and its regents have “quasi-judicial” immunity. Churchill’s appeal is currently before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The Guild brief argues, in support of the appeal, that this politically-motivated firing poses a threat to the First Amendment rights of all people, and particularly to academic freedom. The brief contends further that immunity granted to university regents for their role in Churchill’s firing could undermine Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code, which has been a bulwark of civil rights since Reconstruction.

“[The Court maintaining university regents’ immunity] will allow state universities to violate with impunity the protections afforded faculty members under the First Amendment as well as the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection,” the brief states.

The National Lawyers Guild filed the brief on behalf of itself and the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Society of American Law Teachers, Latino/a Critical Legal Theory, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers, as well as many individual attorneys and law professors. The full text is available on the Guild’s amicus curiae page. For a full timeline of the case, see Prof. Churchill’s website.

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state.

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