Saturday, July 02, 2005

Another possible Supreme Court case

In keeping with the weekend theme of the recent vacancy on the Supreme Court, there's another case that might make it's way to the Supremes directly related to education. Like the one I wrote about earlier today, this one also affects colleges mainly, but could have an implication for secondary schools as well.

In Hosty v. Carter, the 7th Circuit ruled that college administrators may censor the political views of student-run newspapers. From an analysis by David Hudson of the First Amendment Center:

The closely watched case involved the actions of Patricia Carter, dean of student affairs and services, in reaction to articles published in the student newspaper, the Innovator, that were critical of school administrators. Carter called the Innovator’s printer and told it not to print any more articles until she had reviewed them. Because of Carter’s actions, publication of the newspaper stopped in November 2000.

Hosty and two other journalists on the newspaper, Jeni Porche and Steven Barba, sued Carter and other school officials in federal court. A federal district court judge dismissed many of the defendants but held that Carter could be held liable. This decision was affirmed by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit in 2003. However, Carter appealed and prevailed 7-4 before the full panel of the appeals court.

Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the majority, not only ruled that the Hazelwood framework applied but also wrote that “there is no sharp difference between high school and college papers” with respect to education officials’ “goal of dissociating the school from ‘any position other than neutrality on matters of political controversy.’”

The Hazelwood case was from the late '80s when the Supremes ruled that high school administrators could censor the political views of high school students. That standard has remained in effect ever since. The ruling by the 7th Circuit in Hosty, however, is the first time that standard has ever been applied to college writers.

Judge Diane Wood dissented, along with three colleagues, in Hosty. She wrote that “these restrictions on free[-]speech rights have no place in the world of college and graduate school.”

Wood added that if the plaintiffs’ allegations were true — that Carter tried to censor the Innovator — then they were punished for engaging in political speech critical of the school administration. “Few restrictions on speech seem to run more afoul of basic First Amendment values,” she wrote. “The court now gives the green light to school administrators to restrict student speech in a manner inconsistent with the First Amendment.”

So what will happen to the case?

The plaintiffs say they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “My co-plaintiffs and I had decided going into this litigation nightmare that we would go as far and for as long as the law would permit us to do so,” said Hosty, who is still enrolled in graduate courses at GSU.

Whether the high court will take the case is anybody’s guess. “I think there is a chance the supreme court will take this case,” [Mark] Goodman [of the Student Press Law Center] said. “We do have a clear division among the circuits on the application of Hazelwood in the college environment.”

Kennedy could go either way on this. If he sides with Thomas, Scalia, and Rehnquist -- and the other four stay together -- O'Connor's replacement would decide whether to affirm the First Amendment rights of college student writers or trample on them.


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