Parties to Baton Rouge school redistricting plan subject to gag order
LOUISIANA–A federal District Court in Baton Rouge in late February denied a motion by two media organizations to vacate its order forbidding the East Baton Rouge School Board and its employees to speak about “any aspects of” plans the Board will soon submit to the court to modify a 1981 desegregation order. The plan would be the latest in a long string of modifications of a 40-year-old desegregation order.
The constitutionality of the gag order, which was requested by the school district, has been appealed by the media parties, which formally intervened in the case, to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Baton Rouge (5th Cir.).
The Advocate, a local newspaper, and television station WBRZ argued before the appellate court that gagging the East Baton Rouge School Board and its employees and attorneys pending the acceptance of the plan not only restricts free speech, but also circumvents Louisiana’s open meetings law. All sources of public information, insight and input into the decision making process on a subject of great community interest and concern have been blocked, they argued.
The gag order was entered by the court without any prior notice to the press or public, and no opportunity was given the press or public to contest the order. The media participants noted that there was not even a written record of who had requested the order, and contended that the court imposed the order without making any specific findings showing why it was necessary.
The school board argued that the gag order does not violate the First Amendment because the board was not a “willing speaker” and therefore was not being kept from giving the public information. (Davis v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board; Media Counsel: Jack Weiss, Baton Rouge)