Groups urge high Court to hear college censorship case

A group of 15 national student and professional news media organizations led by the Student Press Law Center filed a brief Oct. 20 urging the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a case that applied a high school censorship standard to college and university student expression.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the group says that the June decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will have “disastrous consequences” for college student news organizations and will jeopardize student and faculty speech on campus.

The case, Hosty v. Carter, arose in the fall of 2000 when a dean at Governors State University in Illinois demanded that she or another GSU official be allowed to read and approve the student newspaper prior to publication. The newspaper’s student editors, who had published stories and editorials critical of the administration, refused the administrator’s demands and their newspaper has not been published since.

In the June decision, the 7th Circuit majority held that the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, restricting the First Amendment rights of high school students, applied to colleges and universities as well.

“The Hazelwood First Amendment standard was created specifically for high school student expression and is inappropriate for college and university students,” the media groups said in their brief. “[We] fear that the extension of Hazelwood to college campuses will result in a significant increase in threats of censorship and the curtailment of debate on controversial issues, as well as meaningful criticism of government officials and policies.”

Cincinnati attorney Richard Goehler of the law firm Frost Brown Todd LLC, filed the brief on behalf of the organizations.

SPLC View: In addition to the SPLC-led brief, two other amicus briefs – one joined primarily by journalism educators and the other of civil rights groups – were also filed. Such a showing, somewhat rare when asking the Court to agree to hear a case, demonstrates the strong interest and concern this decision has generated nationally, even outside the student press community. It is expected that the Court will announce its decision on whether to hear the case before the end of the year.