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Friday, March 24, 2006

Ind. Law - More on: U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to hear Hosty v. Carter impacts Indiana colleges

This March 2nd ILB entry quoted from a Fort Wayne Journal Gazette editorial that began:

The [U.S. Supreme Court] last week rejected a request from students at Governors State University to hear an appeal of Hosty v. Carter, a decision that limits First Amendment protections at public universities. The decision directly applies to only schools in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, which fall under the jurisdiction of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, where it has the effect of subjecting university students to the same publication restraints as high school journalists.
Today the Chicago Tribune reports:
The Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., which defends the 1st Amendment rights of student journalists, has seen an upsurge in complaints about administrators trying to control student newspapers' content in the aftermath of the Governors State decision, Hosty vs. Carter.

The case began in 2000 when Patricia Harris, a dean at the university, ordered a now-defunct student newspaper, The Innovator, not to publish until officials could review each issue. The students, led by managing editor Margaret Hosty, sued, citing free-speech rights.

In its ruling, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals suggested that colleges could declare their student publications non-public forums and, as at high schools, censor them.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, a coalition of free-speech groups called the decision "a grave threat to academic free speech" that "endangers the very existence of independent college media." In February, the court declined the case.

Legally, the precedent applies only to public colleges in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin--the three states covered by the appellate court. But nationwide, college editors and administrators are tinkering with their papers' policies to prepare for battles over content.

Press freedom is well-established in American law, but student newspapers operate in a relatively murky area. Campus publications often appear to be freewheeling, but some are largely supported by their schools, which might give the schools some control. Some student publications are funded independently and have free rein, and private universities that fund their papers are allowed to control content.

The battlefield is on the campuses of public universities that fund student newspapers. Do 1st Amendment principles mean administrators must keep hands off, or can a school argue that if it's paying, it gets some say over content?

In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled that high schools have significant censorship authority, but the court hasn't extended that authority to colleges.

In Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, at least, the answer might depend on whether a paper can convince its school to declare it a public forum. That would grant it editorial freedom and give the school some legal protection if someone sues.

"Much of the action in student press cases, in the 7th Circuit at least, will now focus on whether the publication is a public forum or a non-public forum," said Gary Feinerman, the solicitor general of Illinois.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette editorial surveyed the status of various of the Indiana colleges and universities papers.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 24, 2006 05:33 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions