Judge orders alumni magazine to publish group's advocacy ad

NEW JERSEY -- A public university's alumni magazine cannot refuse advocacy advertising because doing so violates the First Amendment rights of advertisers, according to a March court ruling.

Rutgers Alumni Council 1000 sued Rutgers University in 1999 after the alumni publication, Rutgers University Magazine, refused to publish the group's advertisement urging university officials to shift their focus from athletics to academics.

The magazine said the ad violated its policy against advocacy advertising, but Rutgers 1000 argued that the policy was not put in writing until after it filed a lawsuit, and a judge agreed. A state superior court ruled March 13 that the magazine's refusal to run the ad violated the group's First Amendment rights.

Although Judge Joseph Messina did not issue a written opinion in the case, he agreed with all of Rutgers 1000's findings of fact and conclusions of law, according to Grayson Barber, the group's attorney.

The case should not affect the advertising rights of student newspapers, however. The court identified the employees of Rutgers University Magazine as state actors whose ability to limit speech is limited by the First Amendment. In contrast, courts have held that student editors are not state actors -- even when they work on a school-funded student publication. Barber said she and the Rutgers 1000 alumni are happy with the decision.

"We think it's absolutely right," she said.

Peter Skolnik, who represented Rutgers University, said he believes the judge's decision does not recognize that "the government does have some rights to control speech in reasonable matters," and called the precedent set by the case "dangerous."

As the Report went to press, Rutgers University had not yet decided whether it would appeal the decision.

reports, Spring 2001