Expert: Supreme Court poised to issue biggest decision in 50 years on First Amendment and limitations of student speech

Expert: Supreme Court poised to issue biggest decision in 50 years on First Amendment and limitations of student speech Expert: Supreme Court poised to issue biggest decision in 50 years on First Amendment and limitations of student speech

May 28, 20212 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue its biggest decision in 50 years on the First Amendment protections and limitations of student speech.


The 1969 landmark decision of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District is the high watermark for student speech protection when the Court decided that students had the right to protest the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands at school. But in the last 10 years, schools have struggled to discipline students who publish an offensive tweet, snap or Facebook posting while off-campus.



Most states punish students for violent targeted threats published online, or for social media speech that causes a disruption at school. Some jurisdictions allow outrageous commentary about school principals, and others suspend students for cyber bullying.


But how to handle the disgruntled high school sophomore who didn’t make the varsity cheerleading squad and posted over the weekend on Snapchat a picture showing her middle finger raised with the caption, “F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything”?


“If schools can penalize this speech, what other off campus, online, offensive student speech can be shut down,” asks Nancy Costello, Director, First Amendment Clinic and Director, Free Expression Online Library at Michigan State University. “Can schools dictate civility and discipline students who don’t follow the rules when they speak outside the schoolhouse gate? Do schools have resources to do social media surveillance?”


These are the questions that the Supreme Court must answer. It comes at a time when more than 60% of American teenagers choose texting and social media posts as their primary and preferred mode of communication.



The decision from the Supreme Court is expected to be delivered sometime in June – and if you are looking to cover this topic or be ready for when the opinion is rendered – then let our experts help you with your coverage.


Nancy A. Costello is an associate clinical professor of Law and the director of the First Amendment Clinic at Michigan State University. She is an expert on this topic and is available to help journalists looking to cover this case. Simply click on her icon to arrange an interview today.



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  • Nancy A.  Costello
    Nancy A. Costello Associate Clinical Professor of Law; Director, First Amendment Clinic and Director, Free Expression Online Library and Resource Center

    Nancy Costello is an associate professor of law and director of the First Amendment Clinic at Michigan State University.

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