10th Circuit denies rehearing in Kansas State adviser case

Two former Kansas State University students who suedtheir school over their newspaper adviser’s removal will not get a rehearingfrom the appellate court that dismissed their case.

Kansas State removed Ron Johnson, adviser to theCollegian student newspaper, in 2004. Some students and school officialsdemanded Johnson’s removal after the Collegian failed to cover aminority-student event on campus. Johnson was removed based on a contentanalysis of the paper, conducted by a university administrator, which concludedthat the Collegian‘s quality was sub-par.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court ofAppeals ruled in July that because plaintiffs Katie Lane and Sarah Rice, bothformer Collegian editors, had graduated, their claim that Johnson’sremoval violated the students’ First Amendment rights was moot. The appellatecourt on Aug. 20 denied Lane and Rice’s petition for a rehearing before the fullcourt.

Read the full story at:http://www.splc.org/newsflash_archives.asp?id=1593&year=2007

SPLC View: First, the good news is that the horriddecision issued by the district court in this case, upholding the school’scontent analysis of the paper as a reasonable basis for firing an adviser, wasvacated. The bad news is that the appellate court, by throwing the case out on”mootness” grounds because the student editor plaintiffs graduated,has established a precedent that could make it difficult for future students tochallenge speech violations by school officials.

The truth is that nearly all student speech cases– including most of those handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, such asTinker, Fraser, Hazelwood, Rosenberger andMorse — have been handed down after the students involved had leftschool. The wheels of justice move slowly and it is unusual for a case to befinally resolved within the 1-4 years most students remain enrolled. The courthere appears to have gone out of its way to avoid hearing this case on themerits, and in doing so, issued a decision contrary to the bulk of existing lawand perilous to the civil rights of students in those states covered by the10th Circuit (Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah,Wyoming).

Case: Lane v. Simon, 2007 Westlaw 2136579,(10th Cir. July 26, 2007)