Governors State University faces another lawsuit from student journalists

ILLINOIS — Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Hosty v. Carter, the Student Press Law Center has learned the university where the case began is facing a lawsuit from another set of student journalists.

Two former student editors of the Phoenix, Governors State University’s current student newspaper, have sued administrators there claiming First Amendment and other violations.

The students, former Phoenix Editor in Chief Stephanie Blahut and former Phoenix copy editor David Chambers, filed the lawsuit in federal court in August, claiming Governors State administrators were behind a move that put a faculty member in the editor in chief position at the student paper, according to the lawsuit. Blahut and Chambers also claim a photographer for the paper was barred by a campus police officer from taking pictures at a commencement ceremony, among other charges.

The Innovator, which was the name of Governors State University’s former student newspaper, stopped publishing in 2000 after staff members Margaret Hosty, Jeni Porche and Steven Barba objected to a school administrator requiring prior approval of the paper before publication.

The students sued the school and on Tuesday the Supreme Court declined to hear their case. Student press advocates, who sided with the students in briefs filed in the case, Hosty v. Carter, have said the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision allows administrators to censor some college student speech based on a legal standard that previously had been applied only to high school and elementary school students and teachers. By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court let stand the 7th Circuit decision, which is applicable in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to dismiss Blahut and Chambers’ claims Feb. 10, saying the new lawsuit is “patently frivolous.”

“Here, other than one incident where a photographer was prevented from taking photographs at a university commencement ceremony…Plaintiffs make no allegation that the University restrained or censored or otherwise prevented publication of any specific news article or prevented them from printing or saying anything,” according to the motion filed in support of dismissal.

The brief goes on to say that the commencement incident is “so minor in nature and so content-neutral” that it should be disregarded by the court, according to the motion.

However, in the brief the Attorney General’s office does admit that the Hosty case was about press freedom, something Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has repeatedly denied in the past.

“The conduct of which Plaintiffs complain is entirely different from the prior restraint or censorship that…the Seventh Circuit considered recently in Hosty v. Carter,” according to the brief.

A status hearing on the case took place today, said a court clerk for the U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman. The target ruling date is June 13.

by Evan Mayor, SPLC staff writer