Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cheerleader in Student Free Speech Case

Headline Roundup June 23rd, 2021

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 on Wednesday that a Pennsylvania school district violated the First Amendment by suspending a cheerleader, Brandi Levy, from the junior varsity team for a year over a profanity-laden Snapchat rant. Public schools can still regulate some off-campus speech, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, adding, “Circumstances that may implicate a school’s regulatory interests include serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals; threats aimed at teachers or other students; the failure to follow rules concerning lessons, the writing of papers, the use of computers, or participation in other online school activities; and breaches of school security devices.” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that the court's decision ignored precedent and that Levy's rant could have harmed the school's athletic program. 

Coverage was mostly balanced on all sides. Some coverage pointed to different arguments from Justice Thomas' dissent. Some right-rated outlets like Washington Examiner instead featured Wednesday's other Supreme Court rulings, including limiting police ability to conduct warrantless searches and striking down a California rule allowing labor organizers to visit farm laborers in fields. 

From the Left

The nation's public schools have no general power to punish students for what they say off campus, the Supreme Court said Wednesday.

The 8-1 ruling broadened First Amendment protections in an era when school children are in nearly constant contact with one another through social media and text messages. The decision did not protect all off-campus expression, but the court suggested that the exceptions, to be worked out in future cases, would be limited.

"The leeway the First Amendment grants to schools," in light of the special characteristics of off-campus expression, "is...

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From the Center

The Supreme Court extended its protection of student speech to social media on Wednesday, by an 8-1 ruling that a Pennsylvania school district overstepped its authority by punishing a high-school cheerleader who used a vulgar word on Snapchat when she didn’t make the varsity cheerleading team.

The case stems from a May 2017 Snapchat post that Brandi Levy, then a high-school sophomore in Mahanoy City, Pa., sent to some 250 followers after failing to make the varsity cheerleading squad.

“F— school f— softball f— cheer f— everything,” the 14-year-old, frustrated at the...

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From the Right

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 8-1 that a Pennsylvania high school was in the wrong when it kicked a cheerleader off of her team for a profane Snapchat post that she made off of school grounds.

Student speech advocates will likely claim the ruling as a victory, although it was very narrow. The court ruled that while schools do maintain some interest in regulating students' off-campus speech, the factors in the case of the cheerleader, Brandi Levy, weighed against the school's actions. 

"[T]he school argues that it was trying to prevent disruption, if not within...

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