In the immortal words of John McEnroe: “You have got to be kidding me.”
A Wyoming judge has dropped the nuclear bomb of jurisprudence on two newspapers, forbidding them to publish a purloined paper from a local community college about a chaperoned trip to Costa Rica.
In the parlance, that is called prior restraint.
College attorneys argued publication would violate FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and jeopardize the receipt of federal funding, because certain student records are supposed to be kept secret by law.
District Judge Peter Arnold ordered the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and The Cheyenne Herald to not publish anything about the report on the Laramie County Community College-sponsored trip.
Let’s weigh this on the scales of justice:
— A petty paper about a school outing may not be published due to a vague potential for a school to be denied a couple of federal tax bucks.
— The purloined Pentagon Papers, on the other hand, were argued to be a threat to national security. It took the Supreme Court a matter of days to determine the government had no right whatsoever to block their publication no matter the consequence. In the words of Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas: “I believe that every moment’s continuance of the injunctions against these newspapers (The New York Times and The Washington Post) amounts to a flagrant, indefensible, and continuing violation of the First Amendment.”
The justices even quoted from James Madison’s first draft of the First Amendment:
“The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments, and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”
According to the AP report of the Wyoming case, college attorneys argued the community college report, unlike Pentagon Papers, doesn’t "contain information of great public concern." They said it merely "documents a portion of the life of a troubled young student."
The conduct at a tax-supported institution is of vital concern to the taxpayers. Exercising the nuclear option is indefensible. It is not up to judges or lawyers to determine what is newsworthy. That is up to the editors and their readers.