In his column yesterday, George Will highlighted an important case involving free speech on campus.  The University of Montana at Missoula, in a move similar to McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, has a rule that limits candidates for student government offices to spending a maximum of $100 when campaigning among the university’s 10,000 students.  Cue controversy:

In April 2004, Aaron Flint ran for the student senate. During the campaign, a large number of posters critical of him appeared around the campus. He believes they were placed by the University of Montana College Democrats and the liberal Montana Public Interest Research Group. Neither group is subject to the expenditure limits applied to candidates.

To counter this opposition, Flint spent $214.69 of his own money on professionally made posters and pizza for his campaign workers. He won. But because he spent an impermissible $114.69 — enough to buy seven large Domino’s pepperoni pizzas — in order to respond to unregulated speech, ASUM removed him from office. This presumably taught the university’s students important lessons about the civic danger posed by too many posters (too much political speech) and too much pizza, and about the dignity of the law.

Flint took the university to court, charging that his rights of political speech and association had been violated. A district court, genuflecting before the university’s academic autonomy, declared the $100 limit a reasonable measure to “ensure all students enjoy equal access to the educational benefits available through student elections and governance.”

So far, courts have ruled against Flint, who is now appealing to the Supreme Court.  For anyone interested in free speech, this is an important case to follow.  Learn more about it here.