NEW JERSEY — A public university’s alumni magazine cannot refuseadvocacy advertising because doing so violates the First Amendment rightsof advertisers, according to a March court ruling.
Rutgers Alumni Council 1000 sued Rutgers University in 1999 after thealumni publication, Rutgers University Magazine, refused to publishthe group’s advertisement urging university officials to shift their focusfrom athletics to academics.
The magazine said the ad violated its policy against advocacy advertising,but Rutgers 1000 argued that the policy was not put in writing until afterit filed a lawsuit, and a judge agreed. A state superior court ruled March13 that the magazine’s refusal to run the ad violated the group’s FirstAmendment rights.
Although Judge Joseph Messina did not issue a written opinion in thecase, he agreed with all of Rutgers 1000’s findings of fact and conclusionsof law, according to Grayson Barber, the group’s attorney.
The case should not affect the advertising rights of student newspapers,however. The court identified the employees of Rutgers University Magazineas state actors whose ability to limit speech is limited by the First Amendment.In contrast, courts have held that student editors are not state actors– even when they work on a school-funded student publication.Barber said she and the Rutgers 1000 alumni are happy with the decision.
“We think it’s absolutely right,” she said.
Peter Skolnik, who represented Rutgers University, said he believesthe judge’s decision does not recognize that “the government does havesome rights to control speech in reasonable matters,” and called the precedentset by the case “dangerous.”
As the Report went to press, Rutgers University had not yet decidedwhether it would appeal the decision.