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Supreme Court declines to hear controversial professor's appeal

People walk in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
People walk in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by a former university professor who was fired in the aftermath of controversial statements he made about the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

The University of Colorado at Boulder fired Ward Churchill, a tenured professor of ethnic studies, in 2007 following an investigation that found deficiencies and flaws in his academic work.

The investigation was prompted by comments Churchill made two years earlier in an online essay about the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al Qaeda militants piloting hijacked airliners.

Among other things, Churchill compared the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, a notorious Nazi convicted of war crimes and executed in 1962.

Churchill sued the university, saying he was fired in retaliation for his comments, which provoked widespread public outrage, and that his First Amendment free speech rights were violated.

State courts ruled in favor of the university, saying in part that the investigation and subsequent determinations made by the university were a "quasi-judicial action" that was equivalent to a judicial process, meaning that Churchill could not sue.

The case is Churchill v. University of Colorado, U.S. Supreme Court, 12-719.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Christopher Wilson)