Mahoney Area School District v. B.L. (Supreme Court 2020)
This case is about whether the First Amendment protects high-school students and their Snaps against punishment and regulation by public school officials.
Question Presented by the School: Whether Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), which holds that public school officials may regulate speech that would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school, applies to student speech that occurs off campus.
Competing Question by the kid: Whether the court of appeals correctly held that a public high school violated the First Amendment when it punished a student for her colorful expression of frustration, made in an ephemeral Snapchat on her personal social media, on a weekend, off campus, containing no threat or harassment or mention of her school, and that did not cause or threaten any disruption of her school.
B.L. apparently was a varsity cheerleader during her freshman year, but was relegated to J.V. during her sophomore year. After receiving that news, B.L. posted a photo of herself and several friends raising their middle fingers and including the following quote: “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” Although the post was only temporarily on Snapchat, at least one student took a screenshot and provided it to a school official. In addition, at least one person accessed the vulgarity from a school computer.
B.L. was then kicked-off the team. According to the school, a good cheerleader must have “have respect for the school, coaches, teachers, [and] other cheerleaders” and must also avoid “foul language and inappropriate gestures.” ACLU sued on B.L.’s behalf and won, including a 3rd Circuit decision limiting School’s control over student off-campus speech.
This high schooler's snap sums up my mood for 2020: “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything” https://t.co/o7dW4E7FXR
Bonus: a prior opinion referred to the 🙃 emoji, but I believe this is the first court opinion to actually display it pic.twitter.com/OgMb6f9Xbw
— Eric Goldman (@ericgoldman) June 30, 2020