First Amendment groups will argue college censorship case before appeals court

Attorneys for the Student Press Law Center and other First Amendment advocates will be defending college free press rights before a panel of federal judges, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago ruled yesterday.

The court granted a motion allowing attorneys for a coalition of 25 state and national media organizations, university journalism schools and civil rights groups to present oral arguments in support of college press freedom in the case of Hosty v. Carter involving censorship of the Innovator student newspaper at Governors State University in Illinois. The coalition filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in August.

The school was sued by student journalists Margaret Hosty, Jeni Porche and Steven Barba in 2001 after Dean Patricia Carter told the newspaper’s printer to hold future issues until a school official had given approval to the student newspaper’s contents. The paper had published news stories and editorials critical of the administration. Carter’s directive was issued despite a university policy that said the student newspaper staff “will determine content and format of their respective publications without censorship or advance approval.”

The case has generated national attention in part because of the controversial argument made before the appeals court by the state attorney general in defending the school’s right to censor the student newspaper. Illinois Attorney General James Ryan, the Republican candidate for Governor, asked the appeals court to extend the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood decision, which limited the First Amendment protections for high school students, to public college student expression.

In their brief filed in the case, the media groups said “such restrictions have no place at a college or university” and that they were “gravely concerned” about the consequences if the court were to adopt Ryan’s argument.

Although it is unusual for a court to grant non-parties to a court proceeding the right to argue before the judges, the Hosty case is complicated by the fact that the students are pursuing the case without an attorney. The university’s attorneys offered no objection to the media groups’ request for oral argument and the court said the coalition would be allowed to fill the role of the students’ lawyer before the court.

Attorney Richard Goehler of the Cincinnati law firm Frost Brown Todd filed the brief on behalf of the coalition and will be arguing before the court on its behalf. Goehler is a long-time member of the Student Press Law Center’s Attorney Referral Network and filed a brief on behalf of a similar First Amendment coalition in the Kincaid v. Gibson college censorship case where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed college press freedom in January 2001.

“This appeal presents some very important issues involving the First Amendment rights of college journalists,” said Goehler. “We look forward to the hearing.”

The court has not yet set a date for oral arguments in the Hosty case, but the SPLC expects it will be heard later this year.

See the SPLC’s Hosty v. Carter InformationPage