Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.

March 31, 2021
Court: United States Supreme Court
Other Amici: National Coalition Against Censorship and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Alongside the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, FIRE filed an amici curiae brief in the United States Supreme Court in support of respondent, high school student Brandi Levy. This case concerns the constitutionality of Levy’s year-long suspension from her school’s cheerleading squad for posting “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything” on her Snapchat account. The snap was posted off-campus and on a Saturday, had disappeared by Monday, and caused no disruption to school activities. Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found in Levy’s favor, holding that her social media post was protected by the First Amendment.

FIRE’s coalition brief argues that the Supreme Court’s seminal ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) does not apply to the off-campus speech of public grade school students, and that such speech should instead be analyzed under existing First Amendment doctrine and exceptions. While Tinker correctly permits public K-12 schools to regulate on-campus student speech that substantially disrupts school operations or invades the rights of others, the Tinker Court was careful to cabin this broad authority to speech within the schoolhouse gates. When students are off-campus and on their own time, Tinker has no traction.

Were Tinker to apply to off-campus student speech like Levy’s, students would be subject to limitless 24-hour surveillance, and their expression would be routinely policed and punished by school administrators. Worse still, as our brief notes, “if public grade school administrators may surveil and punish off-campus student expression far beyond the school-house gate, a generation of Americans will be taught a corrosive, illiberal lesson about the illusory value of their constitutional freedoms.” 

To protect the rights of students across the nation, amici urge the Court to uphold the Third Circuit’s ruling and reaffirm the bright line set in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

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