Justice Kennedy wrongly demands prior review

If you ever thought our country was in bad shape, you don’t know the half of it.

We have a Supreme Court justice sitting on the bench that thinks subjects of journalistic stories should be allowed to review the article before it is printed or published.

This is a fallacy and doesn’t bode well for press and other First Amendment freedoms in our country.

The justice’s name is Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, and on Oct. 28 he spoke at Dalton, a private school in Manhattan, N.Y.

The school newspaper, The Daltonian, planned on covering the speech from the Supreme Court justice visiting the school.

According to a New York Times article about the situation, Justice Kennedy’s office “insisted on approving any article about a talk he gave” at the school.

This is asinine and a blatant violation of the First Amendment. It is censorship because it is preventing the journalists from reporting what happened.

The First Amendment guarantees that journalists will have the freedom to do their jobs without fear of reproach or censorship, especially if they are just covering a speech.

If Justice Kennedy was so worried about something getting printed that he didn’t want out there, he should just be careful not to say it. Write a prepared statement and don’t stray from it at all.

Of course, if you ask Justice Kennedy, he was just trying to help the student-journalists staffing The Daltonian.

According to The Times article, the staff of his “office made the request to make sure the quotations attributed to him were accurate.”

Staff members of The Daltonian are in training. Sure, a little advice and guidance is a good thing for them, but a person who is “widely regarded as one of the court’s most vigilant defenders of First Amendment values” should not be conveying the message he conveyed by demanding prior review of any form of journalism.

Journalists should be fired up over this. If Justice Kennedy is willing to bully student journalists, is it out of the question to think he would try the same with professionals?

If not, it should at least worry journalists about what could happen if a case concerning journalists should come before the Supreme Court. A horrible precedent could be set just because Justice Kennedy doesn’t understand how the First Amendment is supposed to work.

Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, chimed in on the Justice Kennedy situation and said what the Supreme Court member did was out of line because it ignored the experience and abilities of the high school senior, Kristian Bailey who is an editor-in-chief of The Daltonian, charged with covering Justice Kennedy’s visit to the Dalton school.

“These are people are old enough to vote,” LoMonte said in the Times article. “If you’re old enough to drive a tank, you’re old enough to write a headline.”

A journalists’ status as an amateur, student or professional should play into whether or not he or she is allowed the press freedoms outlined by the First Amendment because the First Amendment applies to every citizen of the United States.

As a person who has to help defend the U.S. Constitution and the country’s laws by sitting on the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy should know this and not be making sure foolish requests as wanting prior review and the ability to edit an article before it goes to press.

What’s worse, though, is the head of Dalton’s school, Ellen Stien, was OK with the practice of trampling students’ First Amendment rights by allowing outsiders to read articles about them and granting approval before the articles are published.

“This allows student publications to be correct,” she said in the article. “I think fact checking is a good thing.”

Sure, fact checking is good, but it shouldn’t be done by providing the source with the entire piece. Fact checking can be done by doing a little research or contacting the source again after the initial interview to verify the information.

And as for Stien’s assertion that allowing prior review helps student publications to be correct, that is a complete joke.

It is a student publication. It is supposed to contain mistakes. The students are learning. A student newspaper is a real-life, total-immersion laboratory of journalistic development. Let them make mistakes. Just be there to help steer them clear of legal troubles.

Kevin Slick, The Daltonian’s faculty adviser, should have stood up for his staff, but he apparently didn’t. Instead, he just rolled over and played dead.

According to The Time’s article, in an e-mail Slick said that “the high school administration communicated a lengthy list of ‘dos’ and ‘do nots’ for Justice Kennedy’s visit.”

As a journalist, Slick should have fought against such a list, but perhaps he isn’t a journalist. Maybe instead he is just an English teacher who got thrown into dealing with the school newspaper.

I could be wrong about my assumptions of Slick, but the last thing he told The Times reporter makes me think I probably got him figured out: “the series of constraints placed on his visit and subsequent interaction did not diminish the experience at all.”

That is a bold-faced lie.

Any time a single person’s or groups of people’s rights are hindered in any way, it diminishes the experience.

These students were robbed of the opportunity to see what it is like to cover a high-profile speaker giving a presentation.

It is a travesty this happened to the staff members of The Daltonian. I feel sorry for them.

However, it is more troubling that a Supreme Court justice caused this. I would be equally as upset if anyone tried to pull this, but it probably wouldn’t be as shocked.

Justice Kennedy should have known better, and the school shouldn’t have played his deceptive little game.

“It’s a request that shouldn’t have been made,” LoMonte said in the Times article. “That’s not the teaching of journalism. That’s an exercise in image control.”

I wish I could take solace in the fact that at least Justice Kennedy is the only one on the Supreme Court bench who has such a skewed view of the First Amendment.

Sadly, though, he’s not the only one. Justice Sonia Sotomayor also has an apparent disregard for the First Amendment.

In October 2009 she spoke at Yale Law School to a group of more than 1,000 people. She claimed it was an off-the-record discussion, and the news media wasn’t allowed in.

Not to mention the fact that she voted against the First Amendment and students rights in general in the Doninger vs. Niehoff Case, which, according to a Contra Costa Times article, “upheld the right of school officials to punish students for out-of-school speech.”

As Americans, we all need to pay attention to not only what our elected officials are doing, but we also need to be mindful of what appointed officials such as Supreme Court justices are doing.

Otherwise we might find ourselves without any freedom of expression protection. We’d have to say so long to news reports, protests and church potlucks, and who doesn’t enjoy a good protest fueled by fried chicken and signs made from newspaper clippings.

Seriously, though, the rights afforded us by the First Amendment are too valuable to lose.

Be vigilant and be free.

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About toddvogts 830 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.