Lewis & Clark Administrators Admit to Being Overly Cautious with Supreme Court Coverage

By on April 16, 2013

This week’s print edition of The Pioneer Log, Lewis & Clark College’s student newspaper, will have a bit of catching up to do after a misunderstanding kept coverage of Chief Justice John Roberts’ April 4 visit to the school out of the newspaper in a case of censorship that was most likely well-meaning, but that—like nearly every attempt at censorship—produced lousy results.

As The Oregonian reports, the mistake stemmed from some unfortunate assumptions made by Lewis & Clark administrators and by the Court. Law School Dean Robert Klonoff explained that since Court officials had asked to review promotional materials for the event, he assumed that they wanted to review news coverage after the event as well, "for small things in the story, such as correct titles." It’s concerning to see that a law school dean would confuse promotional materials with news coverage, since they are hardly the same thing. Meanwhile, according to Lewis & Clark spokeswoman Lise Harwin, Court officials assumed they were receiving a copy of the story as a courtesy that required no further action on their part. Because The Pioneer Log received no response by its deadline, student Anthony Ruiz’s article was not published in the print edition on Friday, April 12.

While prior restraint is problematic in any situation, it doesn’t seem to have been malicious this time. Dean Klonoff apologized, saying he didn’t realize that his sending out the article for approval would result in a missed deadline. "The last thing in the world I would ever want to do is censor a student paper or exercise any sort of substantive review over what the students had written." Indeed, professor Peter Christenson noted that in his 25 years as adviser to the newspaper, he had not seen such censorship by the school. Let’s hope this is a fluke. Supreme Court justices are a big deal, and the urge to treat them with kid gloves is somewhat understandable, but a law school really should have known better. 

As it is, the incident can serve as a reminder to Lewis & Clark students of our broad free speech rights. Ruiz recalled his reaction to being told that the article needed to be reviewed prior to publication. "My gut was telling me it was wrong. I did some research, and quickly found out that the Supreme Court, very simply, cannot do that." Ruiz was correct, and Supreme Court Public Information Officer Kathleen Arberg clarified that her office "do[es] not ask to review news coverage." 

School administrators are going to make mistakes, but a history of free student press and a willingness to admit errors goes a long way. Ruiz was right to question the review, though, and in hindsight, we hope Dean Klonoff agrees that it makes sense that the Supreme Court would not ask a school to defy its own case law.