Does the Constitution protect a school board member’s “emotional well-being”?

That’s what a school board member and her husband maintained after the board member became the subject of an investigation over alleged bullying of a student.

This case, Manley v. Law, No. 16-3846, 2018 WL 2148188 (7th Cir. May 10, 2018), stemmed from a dispute between the board member and a student outside a high school play. The two got into an exchange that “escalated quickly,” because the student was leafletting for board candidates who were not aligned with the board member.  The student claimed bullying and “a wave of support for the student crashed” against the board trustee.

The school board launched an investigation into the board member’s alleged bullying. The board member and her husband filed suit trying to stop the investigation. After that didn’t work, the couple asserted that the school board and superintendent violated their federal constitutional rights by conducting the investigation and publicly criticizing the board member for her handling of the dispute with the student.

The couple claimed that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected their “emotional well-being” and entitled them “to feel that the government treated them fairly.”  The trial court dismissed the suit and the couple appealed.

In a published decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, stating:  “American politics in not for the thin-skinned.”  According to the appeals court there is no constitutionally-protected interest in feeling that the government has dealt with an individual fairly.  The court stated:

As far as we know, no court has gone so far as to say, as the plaintiffs argue, that the United States Constitution requires state and local government officials to avoid upsetting other public officials and candidates affected by their actions or words. This unprecedented theory’s threat to robust public debate is obvious. The district court properly rejected it.

Likewise, there is no general constitutional protection for the board member’s “emotional well-being.”  If there was, we’d all be in federal court!


Tomorrow:   Pole vaulter lands himself right off of the track team, no thanks to his parents.