PHOENIX — A federal judge on Wednesday ruled the Arizona Board of Regents did not infringe on the First Amendment Rights of the Arizona Students' Association by cutting off their automatic access to student fees.
Judge John Sedwick rejected arguments that the move by the board was in retaliation for the association supporting last year's proposed one-cent hike in sales taxes. The association argued Proposition 204 was opposed by Gov. Jan Brewer, who appointed most of the regents.
But Sedwick said nothing ever required the regents or their universities to collect the association's fees in the first place. So he said the association has no legal basis for a claim.
Until this year, the $2-a-semester fee was collected automatically as part of tuition. Students who wanted could opt out by requesting a refund in writing.
The regents voted in November to suspend the fee, then voted earlier this year to allow the fee again starting with the fall semester, but only on an “opt-in” basis. The policy also requires the association to reimburse the universities for any administrative costs of collecting the fees.
“The alteration from an opt-out method to an opt-in method is not the type of benefit deprivation that could support a First Amendment retaliation case,” Sedwick wrote.
Thursday's ruling most immediately means the association will not get back the fees the universities did not collect for it this semester. The fee generates about $300,000 a semester statewide.
Even if the students had won, it would not have helped for future years: A new law that takes effect in September bars universities from collecting any funds from students that would go to an organization not under the regents' jurisdiction or recognized as an official university student organization.