David Lane's lawsuit against University of Wyoming over William Ayers speech ban takes the First (Amendment)

When the University of Wyoming rescinded an invitation for controversial professor William Ayers to speak on campus, attorney David Lane sent the school a letter threatening to sue on behalf of student Meg Lanker.

If the school didn't respond by his deadline of high noon Wednesday, which it didn't, Lane promised to do so quickly file paperwork in U.S. District Court -- and he was as good as his word.

According to the suit, accessible below, "The enforcement and operation of Defendants' prior restraint on Professor Ayers' speech violates the first amendment rights of the Plaintiffs, both to speak and listen to ideas surrounding matters of public concern, guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution." Moreover, in a shift from what Lane told Westword yesterday, the document demands action by a specific date: "Plaintiffs and university of Wyoming students who desired to engage in a protected dialogue with one another and Dr. Ayers, will suffer irreparable harm if Defendants are not enjoined from precluding Dr. Ayers' speech on April 28, 2010."

The text also includes some intriguing details about what may have led to the university's cancellation of the speech.

The complaint (read it here), which was accompanied by a supporting brief, presents a narrative of events leading up to the plug-pulling. Here's one such section, featuring a violently homophobic reaction by a patriot-movement member that references (and misspells the name of) murdered Wyoming student Matthew Shepard:

A wave of hateful messages hit the University of Wyoming, and this criticism was joined by political leaders and wealthy donors who demanded that university officials cancel Professor Ayers' visit to the campus on threat of withholding donations.

On March 28, 2010, a University of Wyoming administrator informed Professor Ayers that the University was receiving vicious e-mails and threatening letters, as well as promises of physical disruption if Professor Ayers gave his two scheduled appearances.

For example, Frank Smith, a Cheyenne resident who is active in the Wyoming Patriot Alliance, said "[m]aybe someone could take him out and show him the Matthew Sheppard (sic) Commerative (sic) Fence and he could bless it or something."

The suit also notes some of the obstacles that confronted Lanker when she picked up the Ayers-speech cause:

The president of the student group and Ms. Lanker met with University of Wyoming Provost, Myron Allen. Provost Allen was immediately resistant to the idea of Professor Ayers speaking at the University of Wyoming.

Provost Allen advised Ms. Lanker: "You need to think about the fact that there are people higher up than me that have trump cards and that this is not a teachable moment. This will inflame public sentiments."

The suit's demands?

Immediately hold a hearing on this complaint. Counsel for Plaintiffs have previously provided counsel for Defendants a copy of this Complaint invited counsel to participate as soon as possible;

Issue a declaratory judgment that the enforcement of the prior restraint by Defendants would deprive Plaintiffs of their rights to free speech, assembly and association, in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States;

Issue an injunction against Defendants barring them from in any way enforcing the prior restraint on Professor Ayers' speech on April 28, 2010;

Award Plaintiffs their costs, expenses and reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988; and

Grant such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.

Now we're left to find out if the notoriously slow-grinding wheels of justice can turn in time for Ayers to appear on the university campus less than two weeks from today.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts