My page on the Morse v. Frederick “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” Supreme Court case has been expanding as more briefs come in. A while back, I told you about some of the Amicus briefs supporting the principal in this case. Now we have a number of briefs supporting the student.
I think the best one may be the one from Student Press Law Center (joined by Feminists for Free Expression, The First Amendment Project, The Freedom to Read Foundation and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression). A strong brief throughout, and does a good job of identifying the petitioners’ attempts to create a new category of speech to be prohibited simply because it doesn’t agree with what the schools want to say.
There is likewise no constitutional exception, as Petitioners argue, for “subject-changing” speech that diverts the audience’s attention away from the school’s preferred message. [...]
Robust independent student speech is fundamental in a democratic society. Not only is it constitutionally safeguarded, but it also provides students with a powerful and vital civics lesson.5 This Court has stated repeatedly that the fact that schools are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes. [...] ( It is most important that our young become convinced that our Constitution is a living reality, not parchment preserved under glass. ).
Other amicus briefs on behalf of the student Frederick include National Coalition Against Censorship (joined by American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression), the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). All breifs are available at the page as pdf files.
The ACLJ is the right-wing religious legal group. They’re the odd bedfellow in this particular case — arguing preemptively under the concern that expanding schools’ power to control students’ speech might someday be used against religious speech.
The brief from Students for Sensible Drug Policy is a really fascinating piece of work. In my mind, it is actually less effective in a strict legal sense than some of the other amicus briefs in making the specific case on behalf of the student, and yet it has the potential to serve a very important purpose. It appears to me that the SSDP brief is actually using the excuse of presenting an amicus brief to educate the Justices on important issues.
Essentially they creatively find a way to tell the Justices about some of the failures of the drug war by tying them to the compelling interest of students to discuss issues related to the drug war without interference. This tactic allows SSDP to bring up the fact that D.A.R.E. and the ONDCP Media Campaign are failures. It even allows them to mention the Goose Creek debacle..
Some schools go beyond these common measures and
employ more severe tactics, which they claim are geared
towards drug prevention. In Goose Creek, South Carolina,
for example, armed police officers stormed a public high
school shortly before the start of the school day and, at
gunpoint, ordered the students to the floor in order to
conduct a drug search. The principal requested the raid
based on suspicions cast by a few students and teachers,
and some surveillance videos showing nothing more than
‹students congregating under cameras, periodically
walking into a bathroom with different students and coming out moments later.Š Despite a thorough search
involving drug-sniffing dogs, no drugs were found.
Similarly, zero-tolerance policies have led to severe
punishment for trivial and even mythical offenses. Schools
have suspended students or turned them over to police for
possessing ordinary items that school officials said looked
like or ‹imitatedŠ drugs, such as a bag of dirt that officials
said looked like marijuana or a mixture of sugar and
Kool-Aid that officials said ‹imitat[ed] drug activity.Š
Students are also deeply affected by drug policies
outside of school. Mandatory minimum drug sentencing
laws, for example, have a significant impact on the
children of offenders who are forced to grow up without one
or both parents. Indeed, 67% of incarcerated parents — and
74% of incarcerated mothers — at the federal level are in
prison due to a drug offense. Young people similarly are
affected by a provision in the Personal Responsibility and
Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which
subjects persons convicted of a state or federal felony drug
offense to a lifetime ban on receiving cash assistance and
food stamps. Some students may become homeless when family members run afoul of this one-strike policy that
permits public housing agencies to evict entire families if
one member of the family engages in drug activity.
And the brief goes on to list one travesty after another that involves students, supposedly to support the argument that students are so directly involved in all aspects of the drug war, that their ability to freely discuss it is even more critical.
But ultimately, the purpose of the SSDP brief appears to be to make sure the Justices know that if they were considering limiting speech in this case, it would not be for a noble, worthwhile, or useful purpose.