WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court was asked Friday to hear a case that could substantially affect the ability of the nation’s college journalists to report free of administrative censorship.
Student journalists at Governors State University in Illinois asked the Court to reconsider the June decision of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hosty v. Carter.
In Hosty, the 7th Circuit held that college administrators have the same ability to censor school-sponsored publications as high school administrators were given under a 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.
Applying the Hazelwood decision to colleges would give college administrators greater control over some school-sponsored student publications. The Hosty decision marked the first time Hazelwood has been applied to a college student newspaper.
The case began at Governors State University when student journalists Margaret Hosty, Jeni Porche and Steven Barba sued Dean Patricia Carter in January 2001 for requiring prior approval of their student newspaper.
Attorneys Lee Levine, Jeanette Melendez Bead and Thomas Curley filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. The three lawyers, who are representing the students, are from the Washington, D.C. law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP.
The students’ petition makes the argument that several past court cases have upheld strong First Amendment protection at the university level. Among them is the 1972 Healy v. James case, in which the Supreme Court decided unanimously that universities could not refuse to recognize controversial campus groups or speakers. A year later, in the decision of Papish v. Board of Curators of University of Missouri, the Court extended the strong First Amendment protections recognized in Healy to a student newspaper.
“In more than three decades following Healy and Papish, this Court has never deviated from this view of the First Amendment’s proper application in the college and university setting,” the petition stated.
The students argue in the petition that because the cases mentioned above are not mentioned in the 7th Circuit ruling and because the federal appellate courts have conflicting decisions on the relevance of the Hazelwood decision to colleges, the Supreme Court should hear this case.
Furthermore, they point out that the Hazelwood ruling on which the court based much of its decision addressed only the rights of high school students. The students’ petition argues that university students are rarely minors and university publications seldom part of a curriculum-based class. Therefore, because these circumstances differ from the circumstances of Hazelwood, the Supreme Court should make a separate ruling that applies directly to college students.
For the next month, interested parties can file briefs with the Supreme Court, either in support of or in opposition to the Court hearing the case.
According to the public information office of the Supreme Court, roughly 8,000 writs of certiorari are filed each year, while the justices agree to hear only about 90 cases.
–by Kim Peterson