High court case gives students something to cheer about


By Marie E. Matyjaszek

We’ve all had those days (or months or years) where nothing seems to go right.  It’s hard to not vent about it, so you let some of your frustration loose on social media.  Depending on who can see your posts, this may or may not be a good idea. 

For Pennsylvania teen-ager Brandi Levy, it was not a good idea. However, she had the last laugh when the United States Supreme Court sided with her this June.

Brandi had tried out for her high school’s varsity cheerleading squad, as well as a non-school affiliated softball team. She was 14 years old at the time, which we all recognize as a highly rational and thoughtful age. Unfortunately, Brandi was offered a spot on the junior varsity squad, and to make matters worse, she did not get the position she tried out for on the softball team.

Frustrated and armed with a phone, Brandi shared her feelings on Snapchat, using profanity toward school and sports. Naturally, when her Snapchat “friends” saw the posts, they took pictures and it spread like wildfire, getting back to the cheerleading squad and coaches. Her apologies fell short and the school ultimately suspended her from the squad.

Brandi and her parents said, “give me an L for lawsuit!” and filed in federal District Court, with the lower court ruling in her favor. It opined that the school’s punishment violated the First Amendment, required the school to remove the discipline from her record, and pay nominal damages and attorney fees. It was affirmed on appeal, with the Third Circuit relying heavily on the fact that Brandi’s behavior occurred off campus. The school district appealed, seeking for off campus speech to be regulated by the school if it is substantially disruptive.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) noted that schools may be able to regulate some off campus speech, but not all. While Brandi “used vulgarity, her speech was not obscene as this Court has understood that term. To the contrary, [Brandi] uttered the kind of pure speech to which, were she an adult, the First Amendment would provide strong protection.”

Her posts were not during school hours, and not on school property.  She used her personal cell, and didn’t call anyone out by name, including the school.  SCOTUS stated that all of this “diminish[ed] the school’s interest in punishing [her] utterance.” 

While her words were simply those of a temperamental teenager who didn’t get what she wanted, SCOTUS wisely opined that “sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary.” 

The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed are her own. She can be reached at: