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Opinion: Missouri’s college students don’t lose their constitutional rights when they step on campus

Gregg Keller

Due process is a sacred American constitutional right that’s always meant very specific things in the American legal context. Those rights are under attack in the Missouri legislature from university academics and the media and it’s important that as Missourians we’re clear-eyed about the rights those people seek to take from the young people on campuses in our state.

Due process rights were first codified in the Magna Carta in the 13th century and were adopted by Parliament into English common law. From there they were adopted into virtually all American colonial laws and became a bulwark of our national legal tradition. Adoption of due process into the U.S. Constitution was so ingrained in our tradition by the time of the Constitution’s framing that it’s inclusion precipitated virtually no debate.

The Supreme Court has defined procedural due process as inclusive of several key components, including: a defendant’s right to see opposing evidence, the opportunity to be represented by counsel, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. So when Obama-era federal guidance called on Missouri colleges and universities to disregard important constitutional protections for defendants in campus investigations, conservatives and civil libertarians rightly took notice.

Enter HB 573 from Missouri conservatives, which seeks to bring back into balance due process procedures on Missouri college campuses in instances where a complaint has been filed. All the bill provides for is that college students accused on Missouri campuses have the same rights as they would have in any other court of inquiry.

Reiterating Missouri college students’ rights on taxpayer-funded campuses shouldn’t be controversial. But it’s now devolved into an ideological squabble in the Legislature, with liberal university administrators and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star Editorial Boards on one side, and defenders of civil liberties on the other. For the sake of the young Missourians on our college campuses today and the generations to follow them, civil liberties can’t afford to lose out.