Court dismisses suit filed by N.Y. student paper over right to endorse candidates

NEW YORK — A federal court has dismissed part of aFirst Amendment lawsuit that dealt with a student newspaper’s right toendorse election candidates on the grounds that it was moot.Thelawsuit, filed in 1998 by the editor of a student newspaper at the City Collegeof New York and two student government representatives, claimed thatstudents’ First Amendment rights were violated when the college presidentinvalidated student government election results because of the newspaper’sendorsement of the winning candidate.According to the lawsuit, the NewYork City school’s president at the time, Yolanda Moses, nullified theelection results because she felt the newspaper’s election coverage was“campaign literature” that “unfairly favored a slate ofcandidates.”Ron McGuire, the students’ lawyer, said thecourt dismissed the claims involving the student newspaper and election resultson March 31 because it has been six years since the lawsuit was filed and Mosesis no longer the college president.McGuire said he has not filed anappeal of the court’s decision.“Under the federal rules ofcivil procedure, you can’t appeal when the judge dismisses part of anaction and leaves the other part of it going,” McGuire said. “Youhave to wait until there’s a resolution of all of the issues in the casebefore you can make an appeal, unless you make a motion and the judge certifiesa particular question for appeal.”McGuire said he has filed amotion to reconsider the court’s dismissal of the claim on the grounds that itwas moot.“While [Judge Thomas Griesa] dismissed the claims intheir entirety on the claim of mootness, the motion to reconsider is saying thatthe claims should not have been dismissed on mootness grounds,” McGuiresaid.McGuire also said the students’ claims for damages should nothave been dismissed because “damage claims don’t becomemoot.”McGuire compared the New York case to a 1995 U.S. SupremeCourt case. In Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, the court ruledthat funds could not be denied to a student newspaper simply because of thepaper’s religious viewpoint.“In the Rosenberger case,the university prohibited funding to any newspaper or student organization thatwould espouse a religious opinion,” McGuire said. “[Lawyers for theCity College of New York] were saying that because the president’sdecision was not directed against a particular slate of students, but wasdirected at the fact that the newspaper was campaign literature, it was aregulation of subject matter rather than viewpointdiscrimination.”McGuire said that the newspaper should be allowedto endorse candidates.“Our position is that the law is veryclear,” McGuire said. “If the newspaper is allowed to publishopinions on student elections, which it is, then the particular opinions itpublishes are just a matter of editorial judgment. Consequently the decisionwhether to endorse candidates or not is an editorial decision.”Thesecond part of the lawsuit, dealing with surveillance cameras in the school, isstill pending.