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New hearing for Kincaid vs Gibson

Cougar News Staff

A full panel of judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments May 30 in Kincaid vs. Gibson, a First Amendment case regarding the student-produced yearbook at Kentucky State University.

The new hearing comes after a September 1999 decision by a three-judge panel of the court that KSU officials did not violate First Amendment protection extended to college media by confiscating copies of the 1993-94 yearbook and transferring the student publications advisor to a secretarial position when she refused to censor material in the student newspaper.

KSU officials said they confiscated the yearbook in part because its cover was purple, which is not one of the school colors.

The September decision was the first to apply the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1988 Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier decision, which stated high schools could censor material in non-independent student newspapers. Courts have for decades afforded college journalists the same freedoms given commercial media.

The appeals court voted to abandon that ruling and re-hear the case amid protests from journalism schools and advocates of freedom of the press nationwide.

In the May 30 hearing, held in Cincinnati, Chief Judge Boyce F. Martin disputed the argument of KSU attorney J. Guthrie True, who said the university did not violate the First Amendment because it confiscated the books but did not alter their content.

"How is this not an alteration of content?" Martin asked. "As Thomas Paine said, 'What's the ultimate thing you can do to a newspaper? Seize and destroy it.'"

Judge Gilbert S. Merritt asked Winter Huff, the students' attorney, whether courts should create a formal standard for student journalists' First Amendment rights and whether such a standard should take into account the size and location of a college or university.

Huff said such a distinction could be unfair and that a separate First Amendment code for students would be redundant.

"I don't see any reason to create a separate standard for adults' First Amendment rights and anybody else's First Amendment rights," he said.

The court is expected to make a decision in the case this fall.

With additional information 
from the Student Press Law Center.

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