San Diego Law Review

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type



High in the towers of academia, the lofty ideals of free speech are tossed around with a deceptive ease. However, as legal minds grapple with heady legal doctrines, free speech has concrete consequences down at the foot of those towers. At this ivory base, the property line between the university and the community blur. Students and nonstudents assemble and deliver conflicting speech that, at times, foments violence. Molotov cocktails, gun shots, broken windows, disgruntled students. All attempts to trigger the dreaded heckler’s veto—an attempt the government has an obligation to prevent. In addition to the public relations disasters grown from the wake of a successful heckler’s veto, the violence carries an economic cost as university officials rush to uphold their constitutional obligation to extinguish these fires. The cost should not fall solely on the shoulders of the university. Although the fluidity between universities and their surrounding communities should be encouraged, the flow creates uncertainty over who pays the cost of a heckler’s veto when the community engulfs a campus. University campuses have not met their constitutional obligations to prevent heckler’s vetoes of controversial speech. To meet their duty, universities need to establish transparent guidelines on how to prevent hecklers vetoes. Part of this requires working with the city officials to coordinate resources. However, when the costs exceed the standard university budget for protests, the remaining cost should fall upon the surrounding community.