One Last Bong Hit for Jesus

No doubt we'll revisit Morse v. Frederick when the Supreme Court decides it, but for now I just want to note one small irony and a hilarious moment from the oral argument. CJ Roberts gave the respondent's lawyer a hard time for seeking damages against the principal. How was she supposed to know exactly what was and wasn't permitted by the First Amendment, given that the Justices and lawyers themselves were having a dickens of a time parsing the prior precedents? The lawyer gamely offered to accept only nominal damages. (He couldn't completely forgo damages because that would moot the case.) But Roberts wouldn't let go because of the larger point at stake and thus the impact on other cases.

Thus the irony: It's certainly true that the Court's precedents governing student speech are less than crystal clear and that this probably justifies a finding of qualified immunity here. But the reason the Court's precedents are unclear is that since Tinker affirmed a right to non-disruptive student speech, a series of fairly conservative decisions have muddied the waters. If the Court valued student free speech to a greater extent, it could have articulated a clearer rule.

And now the hilarious moment: At one point, Justice Breyer referred to the fact that Frederick had unfurled a 15-foot banner. Frederick's lawyer corrected him, pointing out that the banner was only 14 feet. To which Breyer replied, "good point." You gotta pick your battles.