PRESS RELEASE: Media groups urge high court to hear college censorship case

ARLINGTON, Va. — A group of 15 national student and professional news media organizations led by the Student Press Law Center filed a brief today 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 impact 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 hasn’t been published since.

In June, an 11-judge panel of the 7th Circuit, in a 7-4 decision, reversed a unanimous three-judge decision that had upheld the students’ rights. 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.”

The brief in support of the petition for certiorari noted that the 7th Circuit decision is in conflict with both Supreme Court precedents supporting strong First Amendment protection on public university campuses and over 30 years of lower court decisions.

“If Hazelwood is allowed to determine the level of First Amendment protection to which America’s college student media are entitled, there is no doubt university administrators are poised to take advantage of their new censorship powers,” the brief argues, noting a June memo sent by officials in the California State University system stating that “CSU campuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers” in light of the Hosty decision.

The organizations that joined the brief are:

  • Student Press Law Center
  • Associated Collegiate Press
  • College Media Advisers
  • Community College Journalism Association
  • Society for Collegiate Journalists
  • Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • American Society of Newspaper Editors
  • National Newspaper Association
  • Newspaper Association of America
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • Associated Press Managing Editors
  • College Newspaper Business and Advertising Managers
  • National Federation of Press Women
  • National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association
  • Independent Press Association/Campus Journalism Project

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

“This is one of the strongest outpourings of support for college press freedom that we’ve ever seen,” said Student Press Law Center Executive Director Mark Goodman. “The fact that professional journalists and student media groups have joined to say that the future of our profession depends on strong protection for press freedom on college campuses is something we hope the Court will take seriously.”

The Student Press Law Center is a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization established in 1974 to promote and preserve the free expression rights of student journalists.