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Flint v. Dennison

The University of Montana has a 35-year-old policy whereby candidates for student government must keep their spending within limits set by the student government. The current limit is $100. Student governments at universities around the country have similar rules. Such spending limits assure that students of limited financial means have a fair chance to win election to student government. The limits also contribute to diversity in student government. For example, Native American students at the University of Montana are disproportionately likely to come from low-income families, and have few financial resources to spare for campaigns.

In May 2004, a student filed suit in federal district court in Montana seeking to invalidate the limits, claiming they violate his First Amendment right to engage in unlimited spending. NVRI has joined the case to help defend the limits as a reasonable means of furthering the university's educational mission and assuring that students of limited financial means have an equal opportunity to participate in student government.

In August, 2004, the District Court denied the student's request to suspend the spending limits during the pendency of the litigation, determining that "a state university may, in the interest of preserving the quality and availability of educational opportunities for its students, place reasonable restrictions on free speech." Seven months later, on the same basis, the District Court granted a final judgment in favor of the University.

The student has appealed the decision to the United States Court for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. NVRI and the University maintain their position that universities are entitled to make reasonable rules that allow fair educational opportunity. To read NVRI's brief in opposition, click here.

NVRI managing attorney Brenda Wright and staff attorney Lisa Danetz are serving as co-counsel with David Aronofsky, Legal Counsel to The University of Montana, and Catherine M. Swift, Chief Legal Counsel to the Montana University System.

Read More About NVRI's Cases Defending Campaign Spending Limits & Challenging Buckley v. Valeo: