Supreme Court sides with cheerleader in free speech case
The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that a Pennsylvania cheerleader’s off-campus rant on Snapchat after she failed to make the varsity squad, for which she was suspended from the JV team for a year, was protected speech. Her year-long suspension violated her First Amendment rights.
But it wasn’t a complete victory for free speech. As Scotusblog’s Amy Howe writes, Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion noted a few areas where schools can regulate a student’s off campus speech:
The school may have a substantial interest in regulating, Breyer suggested, a variety of different kinds of off-campus conduct – for example, severe bullying, threats aimed at teachers or students, participation in online school activities or hacking into school computers.
Those are criminal threats or actions – not speech. Still, Breyer wrote that the cheerleader’s profanity-laden rant didn’t cause disruption, wasn’t criminal, and so deserved protection:
…she created the snap off school grounds on a weekend, and there is no evidence that it caused the kind of substantial disruption that would justify her suspension. Breyer acknowledged that some people might regard the substance of Levy’s snap as so trivial that it is not the kind of speech worthy of the First Amendment’s protection. “But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary,” Breyer concluded.
Indeed it is.