About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy
GOOD Worldwide Inc. publishing
© GOOD Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A cheerleader's rant on Snapchat has led to a momentous Supreme Court case on student speech

Brandi Levy did not think her Snapchat post expressing frustration about being relegated to the JV squad would matter much. Four years later, it has reached the Supreme Court.

A cheerleader's rant on Snapchat has led to a momentous Supreme Court case on student speech
Image Source: MaguyTran / Twitter

When former cheerleader Brandi Levy, now 18, was relegated to the JV squad for another year, she took to Snapchat to post a photo of herself raising her middle finger. The photo was captioned: "F*ck school, f*ck softball, f*ck cheer, f*ck everything." While the photo, sent to 250 of her virtual "friends," was set to disappear in 24 hours, it has instead led to a major Supreme Court case on student speech. Levy’s coaches argued that the post violated the team rules she had agreed to, warranting her suspension from the squad for a year. Following no success in appealing to the athletic director, the principal, the superintendent, and the school board, the ACLU helped the young student file a federal lawsuit. As cases on student speech are few and far between, Supreme Court Justices will be defining standards that will apply for two or three generations, The Washington Post reports.


"I was just feeling really frustrated and upset at everything that day," Levy explained. "I didn’t think it would have had an effect on anyone, and it didn’t really." However, one person took a screenshot and showed it to another, causing the series of events that followed. When her parents filed the federal lawsuit, a district judge agreed that her suspension from the squad violated the First Amendment. The judge noted that the student's speech was not disruptive and ordered for her to be reinstated the JV squad in her sophomore year (she made the varsity team during her junior and senior years at high school). At the time, this was the most impact the case had.


However, acting on the school board’s appeal, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit went a step further. The school board's appeal includes references to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the foundational Supreme Court case regarding student speech. The 1969 decision held that students and teachers do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." Disagreeing, Judge Cheryl Ann Krause has since claimed Tinker’s grant of authority to school administrators does not extend to off-campus speech, which she defined as "speech that is outside school-owned, -operated, or -supervised channels and that is not reasonably interpreted as bearing the school’s imprimatur."


Judge Krause wrote, "We are equally mindful, however, that new communicative technologies open new territories where regulators might seek to suppress speech they consider inappropriate, uncouth, or provocative. And we cannot permit such efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, without sacrificing precious freedoms that the First Amendment protects." Judge Thomas L. Ambro, on the other hand, argued that it would have been enough for his colleagues to have ruled in Levy’s favor, as her speech was not particularly disruptive. But Levy's "low stakes" case could be disruptive in the court of law.


According to Frank LoMonte, the director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, judges and the public trivialize such cases. Nonetheless, they have lasting impacts. He compared the case to a police officer handing out $5 tickets to people wearing T-shirts with political statements that the government does not like. "No federal judge in America would say, ‘Suck it up and pay the ticket,'" he explained. "Even a very small amount of government punishment that is meant to deter you from speaking is enough to violate the First Amendment, and judges understand that very well every place other than schools." A ruling in the case is expected by the end of June this year.


More Stories on Scoop