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Posted: 1:54 PM- The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that the University of Utah has no right to ban guns on campus, rejecting the argument that prohibiting firearms is part of the school's power to control academic affairs.
Writing for the 4-1 majority, Justice Jill Parrish said case law "is incompatible with the University's position." "We simply cannot agree with the proposition that the Utah Constitution restricts the legislature's ability to enact firearms laws pertaining to the University," Parrish wrote.
The issue of whether the state constitution allows schools to set their own firearm policies heated up in 2002 when the U. filed a lawsuit seeking to uphold its longtime policy of banning guns on campus. Based on state law at the time, 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder ruled in 2003 that the gun ban was legal. The state then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Soon after that, state lawmakers passed a bill in 2004 to overturn Hilder's decision, saying only they can set gun policy. U. trustees voted unanimously soon after to maintain its policy prohibiting students, faculty and staff from bringing guns onto campus.
The Attorney General's Office argued that the university has no power or autonomy under the Utah Constitution to ignore state law.
The U., while acknowledging that the Legislature has general control and budgetary supervision over the school, insisted that it is an autonomous entity that can disregard a law that inteferes with internal academic affairs.
The state Supreme Court majority disagreed.
"Indeed, the University's claim is unsupported by the text of our state's constitution, its historical context, or the prior decisions of this court," the ruling says.
In a dissent, Chief Justice Christine Durham said the framers of the Utah Constitution "intended to secure the University's 'protection and defense' by perpetuating its autonomous control over internal academic affairs." She also wrote, "Applying, as they do, only to University employees and students, and only while these individuals are on the University campus, these policies merely reflect the University's judgment on an issue that is within the scope of its academic expertise - namely, the appropriate means by which to maintain an educational environment in its classrooms and on its campus." U. officials planned a press conference this afternoon to discuss the court ruling.