This is the only case of the bunch that is not based on an actual Supreme Court case. This case, Bell v. Itawamba County School Board, was decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (twice!) and denied review by the Supreme Court in 2016. Students will be asked to treat this case as if it is being argued before the three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (the first hearing before the Court of Appeals, not the hearing before the full panel of judges) and encouraged to read both the majority and dissenting opinions from this case (see below) to obtain a deeper understanding of the constitutional arguments that can be made by both sides. Students should ignore anything they find and/or read about how the full panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled on this case.
FACTS: Taylor Bell was suspended from Itawamba Agricultural High School in January 2011 for posting a homemade rap video to Facebook and YouTube. Bell used profanity and violent imagery in his video addressing accusations of inappropriate behavior by two male school coaches toward female students. “Looking down girls shirts / drool running down your mouth / you fucking with the wrong one / going to get a pistol down your mouth / Boww,” Bell wrote in his song. School officials were alerted to Bell’s activities, and they determined there were four instances of “threatening, harassing, and intimidating language against the two coaches” in his performances. He was subsequently suspended from school.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY: A special note on the history of this case is warranted. The District Court (first court to hear the case) ruled in favor of the school’s motion for summary judgment holding that the student’s speech was disruptive to the school atmosphere. The Court of Appeals (a normal three judge panel) reversed, finding that his speech took place away from school and the school was unable to show that it caused a substantial disruption of school work or discipline. The case was then appealed to the full Court of Appeals, where it was heard again, this time by the full bench (a so-called en banc hearing). The panel reversed the three judge panel, finding that the District Court was correct and the First Amendment did not protect this kind of disruptive speech. It was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Court refused to hear the appeal. In our moot we are pretending that only the District Court has ruled on this case, and we arguing the appeal to the three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
ISSUE: Whether and to what extent public schools, consistent with the First Amendment, may discipline students for their off-campus speech.
- Regulating Speech outside of schools
- UMKC’s Exploring Constitutional Controversies has a wonderful page entitled Speech Rights of Students, which is an excellent place to start.
- Regulating Indecent Speech
- Categories of Unprotected Speech (outside of school)
- Additional information on the famous Tinker v. Des Moines case be found at http://www.landmarkcases.org.
- Tinker v. Des Moines – this landmark case sets forth the principle that students have First Amendment Freedom of Speech rights in public schools.
- Bethel School District v. Fraser – in this case the Supreme Court begins to set limits on the speech rights of students.
- Morse v. Frederick – Court upholds the suspension of a student who unveiled a message at a school event that “could reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use” in violation of the school’s interest of promoting a drug free environment
- ADDITIONAL CIRCUIT COURT CASES:
- Petitioner, Court of Appeals (2012)
- Respondent, Court of Appeals (2012)
Note – I am going to give you only the decision of the three judge panel. This panel ruled in favor of the student. The school then appealed the decision to the full panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (an en banc hearing), and there the school won. I am not providing you with that opinion.
- Three Judge Panel Decision (2012)