Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.

594 U.S. , 141 S.Ct. 2038, 206 L.Ed.2d 403 (2021)

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Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.

United States Supreme Court
594 U.S. , 141 S.Ct. 2038, 206 L.Ed.2d 403 (2021)

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Facts

High-school freshman Brandi Levy (plaintiff) tried out for her school’s varsity cheerleading squad but was offered a place on the junior-varsity squad instead. The weekend after Levy learned of the cheerleading coaches’ decision, Levy used her personal cell phone to post two photos to her Snapchat story while she was at a local convenience store. One photo showed Levy and a friend with their middle fingers raised and a caption with expletives about school and cheerleading, among other things. The second photo’s caption expressed frustration that Levy and another student had been told they needed a year of junior-varsity before they made varsity, while that rule did not apply to anyone else. Some cheerleading-squad members and other students were upset about Levy’s photos and approached the cheerleading coaches to discuss the matter, including for a few minutes during an algebra class taught by one of the coaches. The coaches determined that Levy’s photos violated school rules and cheerleading-squad policy and suspended Levy from the squad for one year. Levy’s suspension was affirmed by the school’s athletic director and principal and by the superintendent and school board of the Mahanoy Area School District (the district) (defendant). Levy and her parents (plaintiffs) sued the district in federal court. The district court found that the punishment violated Levy’s First Amendment rights and ordered that Levy be restored to the cheerleading squad. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that although schools may restrict students’ substantially disruptive on-campus speech, schools may not punish off-campus speech like Levy’s. A separate concurrence expressed the view that Levy’s speech was not substantially disruptive. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Breyer, J.)

Concurrence (Alito, J.)

Dissent (Thomas, J.)

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