On Jan. 8, all eyes on Seventh Circuit

ILLINOIS — When the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit meets on Jan. 8 to hear Hosty v. Carter, it will make a ruling that could drastically reduce the rights of college journalists.

The suit was brought in 2000 by three student journalists at Governors State University’s student newspaper, the Innovator, after an administrator ordered the Innovator’s printer to refrain from printing it until she approved the content of each issue. Editor Jeni Porche, Managing Editor Margaret Hosty and Reporter Steven Barba filed suit against Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Carter, claiming that her effort to impose prior review violated their First Amendment rights.

On April 10, 2003, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the student journalists, holding that school officials at public colleges and universities cannot demand to review student-edited publications prior to printing.

In late June, however, the Seventh Circuit agreed to rehear the case in front of the entire court, nullifying the panel’s holding. 

Kathy Lawrence, president of the group College Media Advisers, said that if the court overturns the three-judge panel’s ruling, it would harm student press rights in a major way.

“I’m hoping that the larger panel can make the case more strongly,” that the administrator behaved unconstitutionally, Lawrence said. “If the ruling is different, student media across the country will face serious consequences, and we’ll have to work vigorously to defend against [those consequences].”

At issue in the case is Carter’s attempt to impose prior review on the student newspaper, said Richard Goehler, an attorney representing a coalition of First Amendment and media groups in the case and who will be making oral arguments on the students’ behalf. Goehler said that while such an act is permissible in high schools under the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier standard, the Supreme Court, in its ruling, never intended to apply the standard to colleges. 

Hazelwood was crafted very narrowly by the Supreme Court,” he said, noting that only one federal district court had applied Hazelwood to college media, a ruling that was subsequently overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Lawrence said that imposing prior review on a college publication would be problematic for a variety of reasons.

A college imposing prior review is “absolutely no different than saying that the city paper in your town will be controlled by the city council or the mayor,” she said.

Goehler said the student journalists’ case is strong.

“Broadly, it’s a very strong set of facts.  The actions of Dean of Students Patricia Carter … were egregious conduct,” Goehler said.

Lawrence, who is also the general manager of the University of Texas at Austin student newspaper, The Daily Texan, said college newspapers serve two purposes: to provide news coverage of a university and train student journalists for future positions in the media. Attempts to impose nonstudent control of the student media, she said, detract from those goals.

“By its very nature, student media implies student control of content,” she said. “The First Amendment was not written for the government — in this case the university — to tell the media what to print.”