ACLU-PA To Argue Before Full Appeals Court In Student Free Speech Cases

June 02, 2010
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PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania will argue two students' rights cases in consecutive Third Circuit Court of Appeals "en banc" hearings on Thursday, June 3. The cases involve two unconnected students who were punished for creating MySpace parodies of their respective school principals from their home computers. The students never brought the MySpace profiles into the school, and the trial courts ruled that neither profile created a "substantial and material disruption" inside the schools.

On Feb. 4, 2010, two separate three-judge panels of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued conflicting opinions in the cases, finding one student's speech protected by the First Amendment but not the other's. The losing parties asked the full court to rehear the cases.

In March, the court agreed to rehear the cases "en banc," meaning all 14 active judges will participate. En banc hearings are relatively rare, with the court granting only a few each year. Cases are often heard en banc to reconcile inconsistent rulings by three-judge panels or to clarify an area of law.

The issue of whether school officials can discipline students for off-campus speech, and if so under what circumstances, has not been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court or the Third Circuit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that schools can punish students for off-campus speech if it was reasonably foreseeable the speech would come onto the campus and that it would cause a "substantial and material disruption."

The cases to be heard on Thursday are Layshock v. Hermitage School District (Mercer County) and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District (Schuylkill County).

WHAT: Oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court, sitting en banc, in two cases involving a question about students' right to free speech outside of school

WHO: Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, will argue for the students in both cases before the full Third Circuit Court of Appeals

WHEN: Thursday, June 3, 2010, 10:00 a.m. (arrival by 9:30 a.m. is recommended)

WHERE: Maris Courtroom on the 19th floor of the Federal Courthouse (6th & Market streets, Philadelphia)

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