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University of New Mexico ‘security fees’ for Riley Gaines event draws lawsuit

University says it always charges fees to Turning Point USA

The University of New Mexico’s $5,384.75 security fee demand is “facially unconstitutional,” according to a federal lawsuit.

Turning Point USA at UNM and the Leadership Institute filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the public university after it demanded the fee as part of a planned event with Riley Gaines.

Gaines is a former University of Kentucky swimmer who is critical of men competing in women’s sports.

The school originally asked for around $10,000 before making some changes after pushback from student organizers. The second estimate of around $7,500 was ultimately reduced as the lack of major controversy allowed the police department to send officers home early.

“This security fee policy is facially unconstitutional,” the Southeastern Legal Foundation wrote in its filing.

Students agreed to the fee as the only way to keep the event moving forward. However, they have yet to pay it.

The university made the assessment based on how it had previously required speaking fees for conservative events. UNM has also received several legal letters for a similar fee assessed to a talk by Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins.

School officials charged the group to have all “thirty-three police officers” on duty during the event, according to the lawsuit. Gaines has her own security team, however.

“UNM officials thus engaged in viewpoint and content discrimination when they required Plaintiffs to bear the cost of security based on the officials’ subjective assessment of the crowd’s potential reaction to Ms. Gaines’ speech,” the lawsuit states.

A hypothetical screening of the “Barbie” movie would not require the same level of security, Police Lieutenant Timothy Stump told the Turning Point group. Stump said he has no “criteria” for determining the fee, but determines it based on the “individual” speaker.

Rather, the department’s past security fees levied on the TPUSA groups, and protests against their events, justified the amount.

“Stump also said that the UNM Police Department was ‘consistent’ in how it assessed fees ‘to Turning Point’ in the past, and he described past TP-UNM events featuring other conservative speakers that generated protests,” according to the lawsuit.

“UNM’s policies and actions have denied Plaintiffs the right to engage freely and openly in the marketplace of ideas,” attorneys argued. “Declaratory and injunctive relief are necessary to stop UNM’s unconstitutional practice of forcing students and speakers to bear burdensome security fees to exercise their basic freedoms.”

Executive Director Kimberly Hermann says UNM’s inconsistent policies create “a strong inference of viewpoint discrimination.”

“UNM did not even try to hide its discrimination when it admitted that it was charging excessive security fees to TP-UNM and LI based on the ‘individual,’ Ms. Gaines, who speaks bravely every day about her experience competing against a biological man and the need to save women’s sports.”

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.