Supreme Court Says Oregon State Student Newspaper Lawsuit May Move Forward

The U.S. Supreme Court is siding with college media in a long-running free press fight pitting Oregon State University against a now-defunct alternative student newspaper. Specifically, the high court has rejected OSU’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit brought by former staffers of the conservative campus pub The Liberty for what they claim was unfair distribution restrictions.

As I have previously posted, in early 2009, OSU officials suddenly removed a set of newsstands carrying the Liberty from spots around campus. Administrators said their actions were in accordance with “an existing, unwritten policy that restricts where off-campus newspaper bins could be placed.” It was also apparently part of a campus clean-up effort.

Liberty staff disagreed with those rationales, vehemently. They pointed out the paper was an on-campus pub, published since 2002 and aligned with a recognized student group. They alleged the bin removal reeked of nothing more than censorship and double standards, providing the longtime student newspaper The Daily Barometer with “special distribution” privileges.

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As a top Liberty editor said at the time, “Basically, we just want to have a couple of square feet on campus where we can place our bins.” The paper filed a lawsuit. A district court judge dismissed it, arguing the university had the right to afford its official student publications with certain privileges such as increased distribution that were not offered to alternative, independent or underground outlets.

The most memorable quote, post-dismissal, came from OSU’s news and communications director. He declared the fight more a publicity stunt than an actual free press battle: “This was very much an exercise in increased visibility. The story line: a big, oppressive, liberal university squelches a small, defenseless, conservative magazine. We’re glad this matter has been resolved.”

That resolution, however, was later overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted trial clearance for the Liberty to continue pursuing their claim of distribution discrimination. OSU fought back with a dismissal appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. With its denial, handed down Monday, the court has cleared the way for the case — OSU Student Alliance v. Ray — to once again be heard by the district court.

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With the Liberty no longer publishing, a victory now would be appreciated mainly on a symbolic level.

According to the attorney for the now-former Liberty team, “It’s the principle that matters. The university has denied all along that they violated the students’ rights here — and they did. It also sends a message to public universities that they need to respect the rights of their students and the college campus needs to be a marketplace of ideas.”

Related

Student Newspaper’s Lawsuit Against Oregon State Moving Forward

Oregon State Not Liable for Limiting Student Newspaper’s Distribution on Campus

Student Newspaper at Oregon State Claims Limited Campus Distribution is Censorship

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