Part 1: Case Brief
Case Title/Citation: Morse et al. v. Frederick
Facts: A student (Frederick) was suspended by a high school principal (Morse) for displaying a banner that she considered was encouraging illegal drug use. The student files a lawsuit claiming that the Morse had infringed his First Amendment rights. Frederick’s case was dismissed by the District Court on grounds that Morse did not violate Frederick’s First Amendment speech rights and was entitled to qualified immunity (Legal Information Institute no pag.). However, the Ninth Circuit reversed this ruling on grounds that, even through Frederick acted during a school-supervised and school sanctioned activity, the school board punished Frederick without illustrating that his speech amounted to substantial disruption.
Issue: Does the First Amendment prohibit educators from repressing student speech?
Holding: (Vote: 5-4) No. Since schools can implement measures aimed at protecting those delegates to their care from speech that can be plausibly considered to be promoting the use of illegal drugs, in this case, the school officials did not contravene the First Amendment when they seized the pro-dug banner and suspended Frederick (Foster 102).
Majority Reasoning: Chief Justice Roberts
Rule: The Court agrees that the school officials failed to illustrate that Frederick’s actions amounted to substantial disruptions but rejects this view basing on three legal determinations:
The school speech doctrine is applicable in this case since Frederick’s speech took place during a school-sanctioned and school-supervised activity;
Frederick’s speech was plausibly perceived as encouraging the use of illegal drugs;
The principle can legally suppress that speech under the First Amendment school speech precedents and other jurisprudence as regards to schools, and the school’s significant interest in curbing illegal drug use by its students.
Application: In this particular case, the First Amendment does not prohibit educators and school administrators from restricting student speech, especially at a school-organized activity, that is plausibly perceived as encouraging the use of illegal drugs.
Concurrence 1 (Justice Clarence Thomas): Students in public schools are entitled to a free speech on grounds that the original understanding of the First Amendment is that it does not defend student speech in the context of public schools. Thus, protecting student speech in public schools will be like surrendering the control of the public school system to students (Legal Information Institute no pag.).
Concurrence 2: (Justice Samuel Alito & Justice Anthony Kennedy): The school administrators did not contravene Frederick’s First Amendment Rights and agreed with the majority ruling only to the extent that a public school can suppress student speech can be out rightly advocating for illegal drug use; however, this concurrence is only applicable to students advocating for illegal drug use.
Dissent 1: (Justice Paul Stevens): The Court contravenes the First Amendment by upholding the school’s decision to castigate Frederick for articulating his views. The school’s primary interest in safeguarding its students from exposure to speech that is plausibly perceived as encouraging illegal drug use does not justify the disciplinary actions directed at Frederick for attempting to communicate an ambiguous statement simply because it has an indirect reference to illegal drugs.
CDInPart: (Justice Stephen Breyer): The Court should have decided the case by drawing upon qualified immunity instead of focusing on First Amendment issue in the case
Part 2: Commentary
The case was a clear indicator of the differing views of justices regarding the student speech rights; this is evident in the dissenting opinions, which considered the ruling as a serious contravening of the First Amendment. In aIDition, it is apparent that case failed to aIDress core issues involving student speech such as substantial disruptions and student speech that threatens violence. The decision by the Federal Court was mainly based on the issue of speech that plausibly supported illegal drug use although it failed to aIDress the underlying issues of student speech under the First Amendment (Legal Information Institute 101). The ruling was somewhat narrow and limited to the concerns of the ability of educators to ensure that the educational processes do not expose students to messages relating to drugs. This ruling is significant in providing a framework through which public school officials can ensure that schools are devoid of messages advocating for illegal drug. However, from a First Amendment perspective, the ruling of the case was misguided and not consistent with the First Amendment principles. The case seemed to have legalized the punishment of student speech that can be considered offensive.
Foster, James. BONG HiTS 4 JESUS : A Perfect Constitutional Storm in Alaska’s Capital. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2010. Print.
Legal Information Institute. MORSE v. FREDERICK (No. 06-278) . 2012. 22 October 2012 . Web