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Summarizes the Legal Battle, Case Study Example

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Case Study

Introduction

The case study discusses and summarizes the legal battle ensuing after the enforcement of a disciplinary action on a high school student for the purported damage he caused to the school education environment, and the appeal by the aggrieved party against the decision, claiming constitutional rights to freedom of speech. Initial decisions of the local District and the Appeals’ Courts ruled in favor of the student, in accordance with the statutes of the First Amendment. However, when carried to the Supreme Court by the school authorities, the outcome was contrary to the initial decision of the lower courts. The Supreme Court decided that the school authorities were fully entitled to enforce appropriate modes and methods for discipline maintenance, to preserve the sanctity of an educational environment and reversed the original decision.

History

Matthew N. Fraser, a high school student at Bethel High School in Pierce County, Washington, used sexual innuendo in his speech for garnering votes for a particular candidate in the school students’ elections during the year 1983. As a result, Fraser was put on a three day suspension from school in addition to the removal of his name from the list of candidates for graduation speaker at the school’s commencement exercises. The student reacted by seeking legal aid against the decision and initially won a verdict in his favor from the District Court, which was further upheld by the Appeals’ Court after the school authorities’ intervention. The courts ruled in favor of the student and compensated him with monetary damages which prompted the school authorities to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower courts and ruled in favor of the school board by justifying its rights to exercise and maintain appropriate student behavior in the school premises in its decision delivered on July 7. 1986.

Trial Summarization

In the Certiorari following the argument on March 3, 1986 and decision on July 7, 1986, the United States Supreme Court reversed the verdict of the lower court which had awarded the respondent monetary relief as well as enjoined the School District from preventing the respondent’s speech at the school commencement ceremony, on the basis of violation of the First and the Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. The Supreme Court verdict held the opinion that the school was in no way prevented by the provisions of the First Amendment in its capacity to discipline the respondent from delivering an offensive and lewd speech. The jury believed that although the First Amendment may not prohibit an adult from using offensive speech while making a political point, the same cannot be extrapolated to a school setting where young children are at the receiving end and at risk of being psychologically affected by the contents of the speech which might serve to deter their academic pursuits. According to the verdict, the school authorities were fully entitled to impose sanctions on the respondent in their effort to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms during public discourse. The respondent’s contention that the circumstances of his suspension violated due process as he was unaware of any disciplinary implications was also quashed by the Court citing the disciplinary rules proscribed in the school manual as well as the preliminary admonitions by the consulted teachers before the actual delivery of the speech.

Court Decision

The Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment does not prevent a school district from disciplining a high school student for delivering a highly suggestive, vulgar and lewd content in the form of a speech at the school assembly as it was clearly distinguishable from the same criteria for political speech which had been used as a basis by the lower court in awarding its decision. The Supreme Court was of the view that the kind of speech delivered by the respondent was inconsistent with the fundamental values of public school education.

Outcome

Although the Supreme Court decided against the respondent in favor of the school but it was not a unanimous decision as two judges in the jury dissented by expressing differences of opinion. Justice Stevens believed that opinion regarding what was inappropriate changed with the times and the respondent was entitled to a fair notice of the implications of such a violation. He suggested that as otherwise the respondent had an impeccable record in academics; he might have been more in tune with the circumstances and existing communication patterns within his peer group which may have prompted him to prepare that kind of speech. Justice Marshall dissented on the basis that the school authorities had failed to demonstrate that the respondent’s speech had indeed been disruptive to the learning environment.

Opinion

In my opinion, the Supreme Court’s decision was right as the respondent was fully aware of the consequences of his speech. He had been adequately warned by not one, but three teachers in addition of his knowledge of the proscribed school criteria for discipline. Although such innuendos may be common in general speech in informal settings within the school, they can not be used on a public platform as they serve to shock and damage the psyche of students who may not have been exposed to this kind of language. The school authorities have to enforce certain guidelines for student behavior for which the management should be fully equipped and enabled to exercise its authority.

Conclusion

This particular case followed an interesting sequence of events and served to bring forth a number of inconsistencies existing in the present constitutional amendments, particularly the First and the Fourteenth Amendments which were utilized by the lower courts to decide the case in favor of the student. The contents of these amendments were microscopically examined in the Supreme Court, on the basis of which the final verdict was delivered in favor of the school.

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