If the First Amendment means anything, it is that school officials may not prohibit students from handing out gifts with Christmas messages due to the religious content of those messages. Nonetheless, the Fifth Circuit held en banc that student speech rights are not “clearly established,” and that therefore two Plano, Texas officials could invoke qualified immunity to shield themselves from liability for doing so. The Cato Institute filed an amicus brief supporting the students’ request that the Supreme Court hear their case — our third brief in this long-running saga. We argue that educators have fair warning that viewpoint-based discrimination against student speech violates the First Amendment and thus may not invoke qualified immunity. While the Fifth Circuit held that a constitutional right must have previously been defined with a “high degree of particularity” in a case that is “specific[ally] and factually analogous” to be clearly established, the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that neither “fundamentally similar” nor “materially similar” cases are required and that general statements of law can give fair warning. Indeed, if the Fifth Circuit’s qualified-immunity standard is upheld, it will be so difficult to establish fair warning for unconstitutional actions that qualified immunity will cease to be “qualified.” Student speech rights were clearly established by the foundational student-rights case of Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969), wherein the Court held that student speech cannot be suppressed unless the speech will “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school,” subject to limited exceptions. Such exceptions include lewd or vulgar speech, or speech that may reasonably be viewed as advocating unlawful drug use. Certainly the student speech at issue here, which included Christmas greetings written on candy-canes, and pencils and other small gifts with messages like “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” does not fall under those exceptions. We further argue that the same standard for determining whether a law is clearly established should determine whether a court can look to non-binding precedent; if Supreme Court and relevant-circuit precedent is on point, courts should not look to authority from other jurisdictions. These standards maintain the proper balance between providing officials with fair notice of behavior that could result in civil liability and ensuring that individuals have legal recourse when their rights are violated.
Featuring the author Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economic and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs & Economics Department, Princeton University; with comments by Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development; moderated by Ian Vasquez, Director, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute.
- Legal Briefs
- Cato Handbook for Policymakers
- Cato Journal
- Cato's Letter
- Cato's Letters
- Cato Papers on Public Policy
- Cato Policy Report
- Cato State Legislative Guide
- Cracking the Books
- Economic Freedom of the States of India
- Economic Freedom of the World
- Public Comments
- Supreme Court Review
December 10, 2013
December 9, 2013
The 2008-2009 financial crisis and Great Recession have vastly increased the power and scope of the Federal Reserve, and radically changed the financial landscape. This new ebook examines those changes and considers how the links between money, markets, and government may evolve in the future.