SCOTUS to revisit the Tinker case—Big News!!

The Supreme Court will hear a case that will determine, perhaps once and for all, whether the “Tinker Test” applies to things that students say when not at school or a school related activity.   This will likely be one of the most important school law decisions for many years to come. 

The Supreme Court will take up this case because the Circuit Courts cannot agree on the standard that should be applied to student expression that takes place away from school. When students are at school or school activities, the Tinker Test applies.  Under the ruling of Tinker v. Des Moines, students enjoy the right of free speech unless there is a reasonable forecast of a material and substantial disruption of school or an infringement on the rights of others. If administrators “reasonably forecast” a disruption, they can take action to prevent that disruption even if it infringes on freedom of expression. 

But what about things that kids do and say when they are not at school?  Does the Tinker Test apply?  Sometime this year we will find out. 

The stakes are high.  With their ever present devices, students are always connected to each other and, to some extent, to the school.  Does a geographic boundary make any sense anymore?  Students can bully and harass other students in ways that are devastating, all from the privacy of their homes.  Is the school powerless to address this? 

So stay tuned.  The Court has agreed to take it on.  It will be fascinating to see how the justices line up on this.  Many of the conservative majority are fierce protectors of the First Amendment, but they also support lawful authority and the need for order and civility in our society.  The Dawg offers no predictions, but looks forward to following this case through briefs, oral arguments and a decision.  We will keep you posted. 

And to think: this all started with a brief teenage temper tantrum on Snapchat.  We’ll tell you about the facts tomorrow.  Warning: tomorrow’s Daily Dawg includes a rant about why the 3rd Circuit’s decision in this case goes on the Dawg’s Sheesh-O-Meter. 


Tomorrow: The facts of the case, the 3rd Circuit’s decision, and a rant.