February 21, 2006

Top court won’t review college newspaper censorship

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court declined on
Tuesday to decide whether university administrators can censor
campus newspapers by insisting they be approved before

The justices refused to hear an appeal by three students in
a case involving the scope of First Amendment free speech
protection for college and university newspaper editors and

Attorneys for the students said in their appeal that a
lower-court ruling that dismissed their lawsuit "threatens to
restrict substantially the freedom of expression on college and
university campuses throughout the nation."

The case involved two editors and a reporter at the
Innovator, a student-operated newspaper at Governors State
University in University Park, Illinois.

The newspaper in 2000 published a number of articles
critical of the school's administration, including one about
the decision not to renew the teaching contract of the
Innovator's adviser.

Patricia Carter, the dean of student affairs, called the
company that printed the newspaper and ordered it not to print
any copies without prior approval from a school administrator.

The students refused to submit their articles to the
administration for review and approval before publication.

Jeni Porche, the editor in chief; Margaret Hosty, the
managing editor, and reporter Steven Barba sued the university,
Carter and other school officials for imposing an
unconstitutional system of prior restraint on the publication.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against all the
defendants except Carter. A U.S. appeals court, by a 7-4 vote,
then dismissed the lawsuit against Carter.

The appeals court cited a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that
public high school officials can censor school newspapers
without violating student journalists' constitutional rights.

The appeals court said the 1988 ruling also applied to
student newspapers subsidized by public colleges and

Attorneys for the students said the ruling conflicts with
decisions by other appeals courts that university officials
cannot censor student newspapers. They also noted the historic
commitment to free expression on college campuses.

Journalist groups, including the American Society of
Newspaper Editors and Student Press Law Center, supported the
appeal, saying the First Amendment has played a fundamental
role in preserving the marketplace of ideas on campuses.

The state of Illinois, representing Carter, urged the
Supreme Court to reject the appeal. It said the appeals court
correctly ruled Carter should not be held liable for damages.

The Supreme Court denied the appeal without comment or
recorded dissent.