School’s Sweeping Ban on Student Speech to Be Argued in Court Tomorrow
Seattle, WA–A federal court in Seattle will hear arguments Wednesday in a closely-watched case that tests the limits of a school’s ability to restrict student expression.
High school senior Michael Leal is challenging rules of the Everett Public Schools that ban virtually all student distribution of literature on campus. Attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute, who represent Leal, have been surprised both by the degree of restrictiveness in the rules and the school district’s bold claim to the court that the Supreme Court’s most famous school speech case does not apply.
The district limits student literature distribution to campus entrances and exits, before and after school. PJI is arguing that this rule is a clear contradiction of the Supreme Court’s most-repeated holding in its landmark 1969 Tinker decision that students’ constitutional rights do not end at the schoolhouse gate. The district rules go even further, however, by requiring that students only distribute literature written by themselves or other students. This prohibits students from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution, the religious tracts Leal seeks to distribute, or the types of pamphlets that have shaped American political history. Making matters worse, the district allows for exceptions to its literature distribution rules in the sole discretion of the principal, with no written standards to guide that decision.
PJI attorneys do not believe that any court in the country has upheld restrictions as sweeping as those at issue in this case. It also does not appear that any court has previously accepted the argument being advanced by the district that the Supreme Court’s Tinker decision “does not apply” to a student First Amendment case.
PJI President Brad Dacus commented, “This case has significant implications for students across the country. If the court endorses these sweeping restrictions, we will undoubtedly see more districts moving to enact similar bans. It is therefore very important to students and advocates of all ideological and political persuasions that we succeed in invalidating these rules. There are a wide variety of ways in which school officials can maintain order and discipline in schools. Closing off the entire interior of a large campus to literature distribution—even during lunch and non-instructional time—is not one of them.”
Oral arguments are scheduled in Leal v. Everett Public Schools on Wednesday, January 21, at 1:30 p.m. before Judge Thomas Zilly in the federal courthouse in Seattle. PJI attorney Kevin Snider will be presenting oral arguments on behalf of Leal and will be available to the media immediately following the hearing. PJI is being assisted locally in the case by Seattle attorney Conrad Reynoldson.
Pacific Justice Institute is a non-profit legal organization dedicated to defending religious, parental, and other constitutional rights.
P.O. Box 276600 Sacramento, CA 95827-6600
Phone: (916) 857-6900, Fax: (916) 857-6902