Papish v. Board of Curators of University of Missouri

410 U.S. 667 (1973)

The University of Missouri expelled graduate journalism student Barbara Papish for distributing a self-published newsmagazine, Free Press Underground, that contained political cartoons the university claimed were “indecent.” The cartoons depicted, among other things, the Statue of Liberty and the Lady Justice statue being raped by police. Papish was already on disciplinary probation for giving out leftist literature to visiting high-school recruits that contained profanity.

Papish challenged the expulsion as a violation of her constitutional rights. A U.S. district court found that the speech was unprotected by the First Amendment, and the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals—on a 2-1 vote with a vigorous dissenting opinion—affirmed the dismissal of her case.

On a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ruling and ordered the university to reinstate Papish. The Court’s short opinion stated that, because the cartoons were not legally obscene or otherwise unprotected by the First Amendment, the college could not punish Papish for the content of her independent speech. The opinion suggests that college students enjoy the same level of First Amendment protection as do all other citizens.