Saturday, November 14, 2009


Imagine a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court requiring that any story in a high school newspaper about his visit be first edited by him and his staff before allowing publication! Bullying of this sort is inimical to a concept of freedom of the press and the First Amendment.

The offender is Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Adam Liptak reports on the story for The New York Times:

"It turns out that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, widely regarded as one of the court’s most vigilant defenders of First Amendment values, had provided the newspaper, The Daltonian, with a lesson about journalistic independence. Justice Kennedy’s office had insisted on approving any article about a talk he gave to an assembly of Dalton high school students on Oct. 28."

Kennedy's actions amount to interference in the workings of a school newspaper. Kennedy is clearly out of line and his restrictions amount to censorship. How could a Justice of the Supreme Court do this? Is he so afraid of criticism that he would put limits on a high school newspaper reporting on his visit and talk?

Reports Liptak:

"Ellen Stein, Dalton’s head of school, defended the practice in a telephone interview. “This allows student publications to be correct,” she said. “I think fact checking is a good thing.”

"But Frank D. LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, questioned the school’s approach. “Obviously, in the professional world, it would be a nonstarter if a source demanded prior approval of coverage of a speech,” he said. Even at a high school publication, Mr. LoMonte said, the request for prepublication review sent the wrong message and failed to appreciate the sophistication of high school seniors.

"“These are people who are old enough to vote,” he said. “If you’re old enough to drive a tank, you’re old enough to write a headline.”"

How can Justice Kennedy handle a case regarding censorship if he cannot tolerate misstatements or misquotes about his visit to some high school? It would appear that his vanity has no bounds and that he would go to absurd lengths to make sure the newspaper portrays him in what he thinks is a silhouette favorable to his ridiculous self-image.

Writes Liptak:

"It is not unusual for Supreme Court justices to exclude the press entirely from public appearances. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for instance, spoke to more than 1,000 people at Yale Law School last month in an off-the-record session that was closed to the news media.

"But Mr. LoMonte said the demand from Justice Kennedy’s office crossed a line.

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

The high school editors and staff should not accept Kennedy's censorship. Better not to publish any story about Kennedy or his visit than agree to have one's freedom of speech curtailed or otherwise be constrained by Kennedy's vanity and pomposity.

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