ILLINOIS — Last month, a federal appellate courtupheld free-press rights for college student journalists in Hosty v.Carter. On April 24, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a petitionfor rehearing, reminding many who proclaimed victory that the case might be farfrom over.On April 10 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuitendorsed earlier court rulings that said public colleges and universities cannotdemand prior review in student-edited publications. In doing so, the courtquashed an attempt by the state of Illinois to apply a high school-basedcensorship standard to college student media. The case specifically addressescollege press and speech rights in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the threestates the court oversees, though it could have a nationwide impact. Thethree-judge panel provided the strong language favoring the student press in itsdecision that a lawsuit brought by three student journalists at Governors StateUniversity against Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Carter could continue. In2000 Carter instructed a publishing company to refrain from printing theInnovator student newspaper without first obtaining administrativeapproval of its content. Carter had been seeking qualified immunity,which protects government officials when their conduct does not violate clearlyestablished statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable personwould have known. But the court said she should have been aware of the manycases over the last 30 years that support college students’ press rights. Thecourt sent to case back to district court to determine whether the students’First Amendment rights were indeed violated.Madigan, however, filed anappeal on behalf of Carter asking for the case to be reheard by the panel or infront of the entire Seventh Circuit, which currently includes 15 judges. If thepetition is granted, the court again will determine whether Carter can beprotected from the lawsuit under qualified immunity.The petition accusesthe three-judge panel of overlooking previous court cases that demonstrate thatthe law governing free-speech rights for college students is not “clearlyestablished.” During oral arguments held in January, IllinoisAssistant Attorney General Mary Welsh claimed that the 1988 Hazelwood v.Kuhlmeier decision should apply to the college student press. TheHazelwood decision significantly restricted First Amendment rights ofmany high school journalists by allowing administrators to censorschool-sponsored student publications if they can show they have a reasonableeducational purpose. In its decision, the panel ruled thatHazelwood is not “a good fit” for college students, who itsaid should continue to receive “broad First Amendment rights”unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise.“Attempts by schoolofficials, like Dean Carter here, to censor of control constitutionallyprotected expression in the student-edited media have consistently been viewedas suspect under the First Amendment,” Judge Terence T. Evans wrote forthe court.In the petition, Madigan says the court failed to prove thatCarter’s actions constituted censorship.“The panel alsooverlooks the lack of any evidence that Dean Carter intended to review foranything other than errors of punctuation, grammar, and the like, which are notspeech on matters of public concern protected by the First Amendment,”Madigan said in the petition.Lawyers for the student journalists and the25 media organizations that filed an amicus brief have until mid-May tofile their responses to the petition with the court.
Go to SPLC’s Hosty v. Carter Web page for the latest information, including the Illinois Attorney General’s petition for rehearing.