Hosty v. Carter

Hosty v. Carter, 412 F.3d 731 (7th Cir. 2005) (en banc), cert. denied, No. 05-377, 2006 U.S. LEXIS 1141 (U.S. Feb 21, 2006).

Student journalists of the university newspaper, the Innovator, sued the Governors State University. The student journalists, Margaret Hosty, Jeni Porche and Steven Barba brought suit after Dean Patricia Carter halted printing of the student newspaper until a school official approved the student newspaper's contents. The Innovator, had published news stories and editorials critical of the administration. Dean Carter's directive was issued despite a university policy that said the student newspaper staff "will determine content and format of their respective publications without censorship or advance approval." The student editors at Governors State University in Illinois filed suit against school administrators and the Illinois Attorney General's office, arguing that their First Amendment rights were no greater than those of teenagers in high school.

The federal district court handed down a decision on April 10, 2003, that offered strong support for college press freedom. The state's chief lawyer, Illinois Attorney General Madigan, argued that Dean Carter’s action was qualified, citing Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1998). The court rejected Dean Carter’s argument holding that Hazelwood was not the appropriate standard for censorship of college student media and pointing to the more than three decades of law providing strong First Amendment protection to the college student press.

Illinois Attorney General Madigan filed a petition on behalf of Patricia Carter for a rehearing en banc before the federal appeals court. On June 25, 2003, a seven-majority of an 11-judge panel granted that petition and vacated the three-judge panel's decision and handed down a judgment in support of the university.

In weighing the rights of collegiate press, the Seventh Circuit wrote, "Hazelwood provides our starting point." The seven-judge majority stated that, "there is no sharp difference between high school and college newspapers." Reasoning that the same considerations that justify editorial control over high school publications might extend to colleges, the Seventh Circuit suggested that "Hazelwood's framework applies to subsidized student newspapers at college as well as elementary and secondary schools."

In reaching its opinion, the court said that a court confronted with an act of student newspaper censorship by a college official must first determine if the publication was a "designated public forum" where students had been given the authority to make the content decisions. The majority said that the fact a publication might be extracurricular was not determinative of its public forum status. Second, the court held that even assuming that the Innovator was a public forum, the dean who censored the publication was entitled to qualified immunity from damages for infringing the students' rights because she could not have reasonably known that the limitations of the Hazelwood decision did not apply to college and university student publications.

The student journalists filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case to consider whether the Supreme Court's 1988 Hazelwood decision limiting high school student free expression rights could extend to college and university campuses. Both sides and several amicus groups filed briefs in the case. On Feb. 21, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant an appeal in the case.