Illinois asks for rehearing in Governors State University case

Last month, a federal appellate court upheld free-press rights forcollege student journalists in Hosty v. Carter. On April 24, IllinoisAttorney General Lisa Madigan filed a petition for rehearing, reminding many whoproclaimed victory that the case is not yet over.

On April 10 the U.S.Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit endorsed earlier court rulings thatsaid public colleges and universities cannot demand prior review ofstudent-edited publications. In doing so, the court quashed an attempt by thestate of Illinois to apply a high school-based censorship standard to collegestudent media. The case specifically addresses college press and speech rightsin Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the three states the court oversees, thoughit could have a nationwide impact.

The three-judge panel ruled that alawsuit brought by three student journalists at Governors State Universityagainst Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Carter could continue. In 2000, Carterinstructed a publishing company to refrain from printing the Innovatorstudent newspaper without first obtaining administrative approval of itscontent.

The rehearing petition filed by the attorney general accuses thethree-judge panel of overlooking previous court cases that demonstrate that thelaw governing free-speech rights for college students is not “clearlyestablished.” It also says the court failed to prove that Carter’s actionsconstituted censorship.

Lawyers for amicus curiae in the case,which includes the Student Press Law Center and 24 other media organizations,filed their response on the students’ behalf with the court in mid-May.

“The Panel’s opinion is consistent withwell-established law and properlyreaffirms over three decades ofFirst Amendment decisions,” the amicusresponse noted.

A decision on the petition for a rehearing is expectedfairly soon. If the attorney general’s request is denied, the case will bereturned to the lower court for a full trial.

SPLC View: It is unlikelythat the Seventh Circuit will agree to rehear this case. Statistically, courtsrarely grant such requests and, frankly, Attorney General Madigan’s argumentsare weak. Still, it is troubling that the state of Illinois continues to spendtaxpayer dollars in a bid that, if successful, would gut the traditional freespeech protections afforded students and faculty on public universitycampuses.