Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Seventh Circuit Decides Hosty: Finds Against Student Journalists

In a 7-4 decision, the majority opinion written by Judge Easterbrook, the 7th Circuit  has found in favor of appellant Patricia Carter and Governors State University, and against the student journalists who objected when, in 2001, Dean Carter told the student newspaper's printer to hold any issues she had not okayed in advance. The students objected that her actions violated their right to free speech and sued both her and the university.

With Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier as its starting point, the 7th Circuit first tried to establish whether the university had intended to establish a public forum. After much discussion of the question, the court finally summed up the issue thus: "Because the district court acted on a motion for summary judgment, it assumed (as do we) that plaintiffs' perspective is the correct one. On that understanding, the Board established the Innovator in a designated public forum, where the editors were empowered to make their own decisions, wise or foolish, without fear that the administration would stop the presses."

However, the court goes on to emphasize that Dean Carter may not have known that the newspaper "operated in such a forum" and if it were reasonable for her not to have known, then she could claim qualified immunity from personal liability from  her actions in shutting down the paper until she could examine its contents. "One might well say as a `broad general proposition' something like `public officials may not censor speech in a designated public forum,' but whether Dean Carter was bound to know that the Innovator operated in such a forum is a different question altogether. The district court held that any reasonable college administrator should have know that (a) the approach of Hazelwood does not apply to colleges; and (b) only speech that is part of the curriculum is subject to supervision. We have held that neither of these propositions is correct--that Hazelwood's framework is generally applicable and depends in large measure on the operation of public-forum analysis rather than the distinction between curricular and extra-curricular activities."

Read the decision here.

The students plan to appeal. Read their reactions here. Read other reactions here and and an Associated Press story here.

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