ARLINGTON, Va. – A majority of judges on the U.S. SixthCircuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati voted Tuesday to reconsidera controversial censorship case involving the student yearbookand newspaper at Kentucky State University.
In September, a divided three-judge panel ruled in Kincaidv. Gibson that KSU officials had not violated the First Amendmentwhen they confiscated the 1993-94 student yearbook and transferredthe student publication’s adviser to a secretarial position aftershe refused to censor material critical of the university fromthe student newspaper. The yearbooks, which school officials objectedto in part because their cover was purple and not the officialschool colors, remain locked in a KSU storage room.
In the first such ruling of its kind, the court majority hadsaid that a high school-based censorship standard adopted by theU.S. Supreme Court in its 1988 Hazelwood School District v.Kuhlmeier decision should also guide judges when determiningthe amount of legal protection for expression on the country’spublic college and university campuses. The decision was in starkcontrast to court decisions over the past 30 years that providedstrong legal protection to college student media.
In granting the rehearing motion, the court vacated that rulingand selected a panel of 13 judges to reconsider the case.
The case has recently attracted growing national attention.A coalition of civil rights associations, media organizationsand journalism education groups, including every accredited journalismprogram in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee – the statescovered by the Sixth Circuit – had urged the court to strike downKSU’s actions as unconstitutional.
"This is definitely a positive step," said StudentPress Law Center Executive Director Mark Goodman. "The SixthCircuit’s previous ruling has been thrown out. We hope that asthe larger group of judges considers the importance of the FirstAmendment on college and university campuses, they will reacha conclusion that supports student press freedom."
No date has been set for oral arguments in the case.
Mark Goodman, Executive Director
Student Press Law Center
Richard Goehler, coalition attorney
Frost & Jacobs
Bruce Orwin, Attorney for Plaintiff Students
Vice President for University Advancement
Kentucky State University