Jeanie Laughed

Jeanie Bueller may have finally gotten the last laugh on Mr. Rooney and her brother Ferris.

Recently two Third Circuit panels handed down polar opposite decisions with respect to students and the First Amendment. One case is Layshock v. Hermitage School District, and the other case is J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District.

Substantially similar facts in both cases involved student speech on social networking sites resulting in severe school sanctions. Any reasonable principal would take offense at the speech. But as sure as these students live under their parents' roofs, it should be equally obvious that the school officials clearly exceeded their authority in punishing these students for off-campus speech using private property. The First Amendment precedent, at least from the Supreme Court, does not appear to deal with facts like these. Rather, the case law appears to involve penalties for student speech while on campus. Furthermore, from a more general position, the law vests school officials with power, but that power should be limited to their official school duties.

The problem here extends beyond the disparate results. Lawyers rely on precedent not only to litigate disputes, but also to help clients plan for the future. The divergent opinions involved here will impair lawyers in both situations. Perhaps of greater concern to the Third Circuit, the results will hamper judges from reaching consistent results. Therefore, the Third Circuit should rehear these controversies.

3rd Circuit Asked to Clarify Student Internet Speech Cases

And now for some lighter fare . . .