Brandi Levy, a 19-year-old student from Pennsylvania, won her appeal to the US Supreme Court after being suspended from cheerleading for a year after Snapchatting the above sentiment:
She sent the message on a Saturday from the Cocoa Hut, a convenience store popular with teenagers.
Though Snapchat messages are meant to vanish not long after they are sent, another student took a screenshot and showed it to her mother, a coach. The school suspended Ms. Levy from cheerleading for a year, saying the punishment was needed to “avoid chaos” and maintain a “teamlike environment.”
Ms. Levy sued the school district, winning a sweeping victory from a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. The court said the First Amendment did not allow public schools to punish students for speech outside school grounds, relying on a precedent from a different era.
Everyone except Justice Thomas joined Justice Breyer's opinion, which held:
While public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech, the special interests offered by the school are not sufficient to overcome B. L.’s interest in free expression in this case.
[T]hree features of off-campus speech often, even if not always, distinguish schools’ efforts to regulate off-campus speech. First, a school will rarely stand in loco parentis when a student speaks off campus. Second, from the student speaker’s perspective, regulations of off-campus speech, when coupled with regulations of on-campus speech, include all the speech a student utters during the full 24-hour day. That means courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech, for doing so may mean the student cannot engage in that kind of speech at all. Third, the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus, because America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. Taken together, these three features of much off-campus speech mean that the leeway the First Amendment grants to schools in light of their special characteristics is diminished.
Justice Thomas, with predictable disdain for the modern world and rational thought in general, would have applied his originalist philosophy even to Snapchat:
I would begin the assessment of the scope of free-speech rights incorporated against the States by looking to “what ‘ordinary citizens’ at the time of [the Fourteenth Amendment’s] ratification would have understood” the right to encompass. McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742, 813 (2010) (THOMAS, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Cases and treatises from that era reveal that public schools retained substantial authority to discipline students. As I have previously explained, that authority was near plenary while students were at school. See Morse v. Frederick, 551 U. S. 393, 419 (2007) (concurring opinion). Authority also extended to when students were traveling to or from school. See, e.g., Lander v. Seaver, 32 Vt. 114, 120 (1859). And, although schools had less authority after a student returned home, it was well settled that they still could discipline students for off-campus speech or conduct that had a proximate tendency to harm the school environment.
Perhaps the most familiar example applying this rule is a case where a student, after returning home from school, used “disrespectful language” against a teacher—he called the teacher “old”—“in presence of the [teacher] and of some of his fellow pupils.” Id., at 115 (emphasis deleted). The Vermont Supreme Court held that the teacher could discipline a student for this speech because the speech had “a direct and immediate tendency to injure the school, to subvert the master’s authority, and to beget disorder and insubordination.”
I left the citations in because seeing Thomas at his epistemologically-sealed best really drives home how frighteningly out of touch he is. First, he cited his own concurrences, which (a) have no force of law and (b) he wrote. Then he cited and quoted a Vermont case from 1859 that sure, I guess, has precedential value in the state of Vermont, but probably doesn't even reflect current Vermont law.
In the rest of his dissent, Thomas cites his own concurrences a couple more times, a Missouri case from 1885, an Iowa case from 1971, and another Missouri case from 1877. He really does live in the 19th Century.
So, good on Levy, and on the First Amendment, who won a clear victory with this case. But what the hell, Clarence? How much more of this originalist crap do we have to endure before you finally retire and we can appoint someone from the 21st Century to Thurgood Marshall's seat?