Friday, May 29, 2009
For the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Sanders writes that we may find that one of the greatest losses academics sustain now that Justice Souter is leaving the bench is one that is not immediately obvious: his devotion to academic freedom.
With the retirement of David H. Souter, academics and librarians will lose an ally on the nation's highest court. Not only did he staunchly defend intellectual freedom, but his opinions also displayed sensitivity and a sophisticated understanding toward faculty work and university decision making.
Souter's writings on such matters were not frequent...[b]ut he deserves praise for several thoughtful, carefully argued opinions that rejected what he saw as unworkable restraints on the freedoms of colleges, library patrons, and professors.
More than some of his colleagues, Souter seemed to understand that colleges are unique institutions whose internal workings the law must respect. For example, in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth (2000), a group of conservative students challenged the university's mandatory activity fee because it supported certain activities — including centers for women and gay students and a liberal political-action group — with which they disagreed. The students argued that being forced to help pay for such things violated their First Amendment rights.