Civil Rights, Advocacy Groups Partner with Law Firm to File Amicus Brief to Protect Freedom of Speech for Students of Color
Legal action taken in the Supreme Court works to ensure that students’ First Amendment rights are protected even while off-campus
WASHINGTON, DC — Advancement Project National Office and Juvenile Law Center, along with law firm Arnold & Porter, have filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the United States. In the brief, Advancement Project National Office, Juvenile Law Center, and Arnold & Porter argue that expanding the authority of schools to regulate off-campus student speech, such as social media use, has “ominous implications” for students of color and other marginalized student groups who already face disproportionate and excessive discipline. The argument echoes the historic Tinker v. Des Moines 1969 Supreme Court ruling, which secured students’ right to free speech in public schools.
While the groups’ legal action focuses on a young white student in Pennsylvania, the reality is that students of color nationwide consistently experience bias and discrimination in schools, which disproportionately excludes them from the classroom, leading to devastating long-term consequences.
As the Court has previously recognized, young people undergo developmental changes as they journey through adolescence; and their age-appropriate behavior should be met with understanding, not with punishment. The case at hand does not involve student speech that threatens violence or harasses others. Allowing schools to regulate non-threatening, non-harassing off-campus student expression, particularly on social media, will remove the space for healthy development, and further expose students of color and other marginalized students to the risk of disparate discipline for developmentally appropriate expression.
“We are living in an era where young people increasingly use social media to express themselves and interact with each other,” explained Gilda Daniels, Director of Litigation at Advancement Project National Office. “Extending school authority to non-threatening off-campus speech risks exacerbating the already disproportionate harsh exclusionary discipline that youth of color receive. This is too high a price for young people of color and other marginalized groups to pay.”
“Adolescence is a crucial stage of development during which youth learn to navigate peer and other social relationships,” said Marsha Levick, Chief Legal Officer and Co-Founder at Juvenile Law Center. “As youth increasingly turn to social media to express themselves in age-appropriate ways, it is critical that we protect this off-campus speech from the reach of school discipline.”
“Increased use of social media has, in many ways, blurred the line between on and off-campus speech, all while racial disparities in school discipline continue. This case provides an important opportunity for the Supreme Court to further protect students’ rights to free speech, while also protecting against the extension of disparities in school discipline that would inevitably occur if schools are allowed to extend Tinker to off-campus speech,” explained Raqiyyah Pippins, a partner at Arnold & Porter.
As displayed repeatedly over the course of the last year and throughout history, those who are most impacted by our country’s failing systems are the people of color who are most devalued and marginalized in this country.
The free speech guarantees of the First Amendment warrant the utmost protection, especially for students of color and other marginalized groups. With this truth, the Court has rightfully restricted schools’ authority to infringe on these rights in the past and should continue to do so. Government officials should not have broad unchecked power to punish age-appropriate adolescent speech made outside the school setting and expanding school authority to off-campus speech would exacerbate the discriminatory impacts of existing school disciplinary practices, particularly for students of color.
Advancement Project National Office is a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. Visit www.advancementproject.org.
Juvenile Law Center advocates for rights, dignity, equity and opportunity for youth in the foster care and justice systems. Founded in 1975, Juvenile Law Center is the first non-profit, public interest law firm for children in the country. We fight for youth through litigation, appellate advocacy and submission of amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs, policy reform, public education, training, consulting, and strategic communications. Widely published and internationally recognized as leaders in the field, Juvenile Law Center has substantially shaped the development of law and policy on behalf of youth. We strive to ensure that laws, policies, and practices affecting youth advance racial and economic equity and are rooted in research, consistent with children’s unique developmental characteristics, and reflective of international human rights values. For more information about Juvenile Law Center’s work, visit www.JLC.org.
With nearly 1,000 lawyers practicing in 14 offices around the globe, Arnold & Porter serves clients across 40 distinct practice areas. The firm offers 100 years of renowned regulatory expertise, sophisticated litigation and transactional practices, and leading multidisciplinary offerings in the life sciences and financial services industries. Visit www.arnoldporter.com