Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Colleges Can Win Student-Reporter Lawsuits by Running Out the Clock, Court Rules


For student journalists, First Amendment lawsuits now have an immediate deadline, according to a ruling handed down last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

The ruling, a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the court, rejected an appeal by two recent graduates of Kansas State University who in 2004 served as editors of the Kansas State Collegian, a student newspaper.

The students asserted that the university had violated their First Amendment rights by removing their faculty adviser from the newspaper staff following criticism of the Collegian’s coverage of minority issues.

The judges ruled that the plaintiffs’ status as graduates made their claims moot because, as alumni, they are not subject to censorship by the university....

A spokesman for the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for the rights of student journalists, said the ruling had set a troubling precedent.

“The court created a standard for mootness that makes it impossible for virtually any student to make a First Amendment claim because they will graduate before their case is concluded,” said Mark Goodman, the center’s executive director. “It’s just plain wrong.”

It is very interesting, and often discouraging, to compare and contrast instances in which courts invoke mootness to throw cases out (and make judicial resolution of recurrent issues difficult or impossible), and those in which courts find an exception to mootness, characterizing cases as "capable of repetition yet evading review." Apparently first amendment challenges by student journalists don't make the grade, unlike those of moneyed corporations and special interest groups.

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