The state of Iowa will be covering the bill in a protracted lawsuit over Iowa State University’s decision to bar a chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (“NORML”) from using the university’s trademarks on T-shirts. ISU students won approval in 2012 to use the ISU mascot bearing a marijuana leaf and the slogan “Freedom is NORML at ISU,” but the university reversed itself after an article on the story drew the ire of state legislators.  The students then sued the university, claiming school administrators infringed the First Amendment by imposing more stringent trademark policies “expressly to restrict” NORML’s pro-marijuana speech.  The trial judge and the Eighth Circuit both sided with the students, holding the administrators “at least implied that the additional scrutiny imposed on NORML ISU was due to the views for which it was advocating” and “were motivated at least in part by pressure from Iowa politicians.”

Last month, an Iowa federal judge ordered the state to repay $598,000 in legal bills to the lawyers who represented the students through the district court proceeding. This amount was awarded in addition to the amounts the state agreed to pay in settling the action, namely, $193,000 to the lawyers for legal bills associated with the Eighth Circuit appeal and $150,000 to the students.

Takeaway: This case provides a warning of the potentially steep costs of viewpoint discrimination in deciding who may use state university logos or mascots, regardless of outside press or political pressures.