The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of a high school cheerleader kicked off her team for saying “fuck cheer” on Snapchat on her personal time, BuzzFeed News reports.
The court ruled 8-1 that while public schools may have a special interest in regulating off-campus speech, they did not meet the bar for violating the girl’s First Amendment rights.
"It might be tempting to dismiss [the cheerleader's vulgar] words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion. "But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary."
But the court stopped short of setting a clear bar for when the First Amendment must “give way” to schools’ interest in off-campus speech.
Breyer predicted future court battles over the issue, but said that the “leeway” schools have in overriding First Amendment rights is “diminished” when students are not actually in school.
The case was brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania on behalf of Brandi Levy, a Pennsylvania teen suspended by her cheerleading team in 2017 after she posted a photo of her and a friend holding up their middle fingers, writing, "fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything" on a weekend while she was off-campus.
Levy was suspended for a year for the post for violating team rules, which said there “will be no toleration of any negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches placed on the internet.”
A federal judge ruled in Levy’s favor in 2019 and the decision was upheld by an appeals court.
Justice Clarence Thomas cast the only dissenting vote in the case, accusing the other justices of ignoring legal precedent surrounding school discipline.
Thomas argued that the precedent, which dates back to the 1800s, supports the argument that schools "could discipline students in circumstances like those presented here."
But the court found that Levy’s speech was protected because she did not identify anyone, threaten any person, and did not cause “substantial interference” to the school’s efforts.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito in a concurrent opinion said that schools regulating off-campus speech "raises serious First Amendment concerns, and school officials should proceed cautiously before venturing into this territory."