Krakauer and Privacy Take Center Stage in Montana Supreme Court Hearings
A high profile case involving privacy rights, the University of Montana, and Grizzly Football quarterback Jordan Johnson, came to a head at a Montana Supreme Court hearing today, April 27.
At its crux, the legal argument between author John Krakauer and the University of Montana is the offspring of a disagreement between the Montana Constitution’s Right to Know clause and a federal regulation known as the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (or FERPA), which prohibits universities from releasing private information pertaining to students. During the hearing, the legal team for the university system argued that the Montana Constitution’s Right to Know provision is for Montana citizens, not necessarily Mr. Krakauer, who hails from Colorado. Unsurprisingly, Krakauer’s attorney Mike Meloy disagreed.
"What seems to be odd to me about the argument, is that the University seems to be giving Jordan Johnson, who came from Oregon... I don't know whether he's a resident or non-resident... but protecting his privacy, but at the same time suggesting that Mr. Krakauer, who comes from Colorado, didn't have standing to request the document under the same constitutional provisions," Meloy said.
The case centered on Mr. Krakauer in more ways than one. Montana Supreme Court Justices questioned Meloy on whether or not, Krakauer’s profession and intent should be given equal weight with other groups:
"The right to privacy requires the demonstration of a compelling state interest and Mr. Krakauer, irrespective of his residency, is a private individual. He's an author, writing a book for profit as opposed to say an advocacy group against sexual violence, coming forward seeking this information. In terms of demonstrating the compelling state interest and assessing the merits of a public disclosure, doesn't that factor in?"
The Supreme Court’s decision in this case could have a big impact on all Montana University System students. Attorneys for the University of Montana have suggested that a ruling in favor of Krakauer’s information request could hurt the school’s access to federal financial aid packages.