Upfront September 5, 2011 : Page 8
national 10 ParT 1 by tom JaCobs 8 Supreme Court Cases Every Teen Should Know The nation’s highest court has had plenty to say about everything from free speech at school to legal protections for teens U p f r o n t • U pfrontma g azine. c om t he Supreme Court of the United States has had the last word on some of the most important—and divisive— legal questions in American history: Is flag-burning protected by our right to freedom of speech? Is the death penalty a “cruel and unusual punishment” ? Do we have the right to own weapons? And though it may seem like the nine Justices— who deliberate in secret and serve lifetime appointments—live in a world far removed from your own, many of the cases they decide directly affect you, as both a teenager and a student. In a landmark 1967 case known as In re Gault (“in re” is Latin for “in reference to”), which concerned the arrest of a 15-year-old Arizona boy named Gerald Gault, the Supreme Court established for the first time that teenagers have distinct rights under the Constitution. Since then, it has ruled on a variety of issues involving people under 18—from freedom of speech and privacy rights at school to protections for minors in the legal system. This two-part article examines 10 of these cases, and why they matter to you. Royalty-FRee/CoRbis (supReme CouRt)
Teens & Supremes
ParT 1<br /> <br /> The nation’s highest court has had plenty to say about everything from free speech at school to legal protections for teens<br /> <br /> The Supreme Court of the United States has had the last word on some of the most important—and divisive— legal questions in American history: Is flag-burning protected by our right to freedom of speech? Is the death penalty a “cruel and unusual punishment” ? Do we have the right to own weapons?<br /> <br /> And though it may seem like the nine Justices— who deliberate in secret and serve lifetime appointments—live in a world far removed from your own, many of the cases they decide directly affect you, as both a teenager and a student.<br /> <br /> In a landmark 1967 case known as In re Gault (“in re” is Latin for “in reference to”), which concerned the arrest of a 15-year-old Arizona boy named Gerald Gault, the Supreme Court established for the first time that teenagers have distinct rights under the Constitution. Since then, it has ruled on a variety of issues involving people under 18—from freedom of speech and privacy rights at school to protections for minors in the legal system.<br /> <br /> This two-part article examines 10 of these cases, and why they matter to you. <br /> <br /> Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969)<br /> <br /> Issue: Freedom Of Speech At School<br /> <br /> Bottom line: You have the right to express yourself-up to a point.<br /> <br /> Background: In December 1965, John and Mary Beth Tinker (above) and their friend Chris Eckhardt wore black armbands to school in Des Moines, Iowa, to protest the Vietnam War. School officials told them to remove the armbands, and when they refused, they were suspended (John, 15, from North High; Mary Beth, 13, from Warren Harding Junior High; and Chris, 16, from Roosevelt High). With their parents, they sued the school district, claiming it had violated their First Amendment right of freedom of speech. RuLing: The Supreme Court sided with the students. Students and teachers Tom Jacobs, a juvenile court judge and former assistant attorney general in Arizona, is the author of “Teens Take It to Court” (Free Spirit Publishing, 2006) . Additional reporting by Veronica Majerol. Don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” the Court said.<br /> <br /> The Court did not, however, grant students an unlimited right to Selfexpression. It said First Amendment guarantees must be balanced against a school’s need to keep order: As long as an act of expression doesn’t disrupt classwork or school activities or invade the rights of others, it’s acceptable.<br /> <br /> Regarding the students in this case, “their deviation consisted only in wearing on their sleeve a band of black cloth,” the Court said. “They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder.”<br /> <br /> ImPaCT: In 1986, applying the “disruption test” from the Tinker case, the Court upheld the suspension of Matthew Fraser, a 17-year-old senior at Bethel High School in Tacoma, Washington, who gave a school speech containing sexual innuendos (Bethel School District v. Fraser). The Court said “it is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse.”<br /> <br /> Lower courts have relied on Tinker in rulings on school attire, allowing nose rings and dyed hair, for example, but disallowing a T-shirt displaying a Confederate flag.<br /> <br /> In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that schools can limit student speech that seems to advocate illegal drug use (Frederick v. Morse). The case involved an 18-year-old senior at Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska who was suspended for holding a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” while standing across the street from the school during the Olympic torch relay in 2002.<br /> <br /> Kent v. United States (1966)<br /> <br /> Issue: Juveniles And Serious Crime<br /> <br /> Bottom line: Teens can be tried and sentenced as adults.<br /> <br /> BaCKground: Morris Kent, 16, who had been on probation since he was 14 for burglary and theft, was arrested and charged with three home burglaries, three robberies, and two counts of rape in Washington, D.C. Because of the seriousness of the charges and Morris’s criminal history, the prosecutor moved to try Morris in adult court.<br /> <br /> Morris’s lawyer wanted the case to stay in juvenile court, where the penalties were much less severe. He had planned to argue that Morris had a mental illness that should be considered when deciding where he would be tried. The judge sided with the prosecutor and sent Morris to adult court, where he was convicted and sentenced to 30 to 90 years in prison.<br /> <br /> Morris appealed, arguing that the case should have remained in juvenile court. RuLing: The Supreme Court ruled against Morris, stating that a minor can be tried and punished as an adult. However, the Justices also said that in deciding whether to remove a case from juvenile court, judges must consider the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s age, criminal background, and mental state.<br /> <br /> ImPaCT: In light of recent research establishing that juveniles have a lessdeveloped sense of right and wrong, both the Supreme Court and the states have become more lenient toward juvenile offenders. In 2005, the high court abolished the death penalty for minors, saying it violated the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishments,” and last year, it came to the same conclusion about sentencing juveNiles to life imprisonment for crimes other than homicide. Those decisions have led many states to reconsider the practice of trying young offenders as adults.<br /> <br /> United States v. Virginia (1996)<br /> <br /> Issue: Gender Equality In College<br /> <br /> BoTTom LinE: Single-sex public colleges are almost always unconstitutional.<br /> <br /> BaCKground: For more than 150 years, the prestigious Virginia Military Institute operated as a male-only public military academy. But in 1990, after a female high school student filed a complaint, the Justice Department sued the state of Virginia, arguing that V.M.I.’s admissions policy violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.<br /> <br /> Virginia tried to settle the matter in 1995 by creating the all-female Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership. But concerns about V.W.I.L. pushed the case to the high court.<br /> <br /> RuLing: The Court was faced with two questions: Was V.M.I.’s all-male admissions policy constitutional? And if not, did the all-female school fix the problem? On both counts, the Supreme Court ruled no.<br /> <br /> In a 7-to-1 decision (a Justice whose son attended V.M.I. did not participate), the Court said that the state must have “an exceedingly persuasive justification” for treating men and women differently. <br /> <br /> Virginia’s reasons—including fear that women wouldn’t be able to keep up with V.M.I.’s rigorous boot-camp-style curriculum—were not convincing.<br /> <br /> The Court also said the all-female program Virginia had created was inferior to V.M.I. in nearly every respect, including training, course offerings, and faculty quality.<br /> <br /> ImPaCT: In a dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia expressed concern that the decision would eventually mean the end of private single-sex institutions that receive public funding.<br /> <br /> In theory, the V.M.I. ruling leaves room for states to create single-sex colleges, but the criteria for good reasons to do so isn’t clear. “The Court in V.M.I. doesn’t say that separate is inherently unequal” in gender cases, according to Jonathan Entin, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, “although it comes pretty close.”<br /> <br /> The decision also applied to the thenall- male Citadel, a military academy in South Carolina and the only other singlesex public college in the U.S. at the time. Both V.M.I. and the Citadel are now coed.<br /> <br /> Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (2000)<br /> <br /> Issue: school prayer<br /> <br /> Bottom line: public schools cannot sponsor religious activities like group prayer.<br /> <br /> BaCKground: A Texas school district allowed a student “chaplain,” who had been elected by fellow students, to lead a prayer over the public-address system before home football games. Several students and their parents anonymously sued the school district, claiming a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”<br /> <br /> RuLing: The Supreme Court ruled that the district’s policy regarding prayer was unconstitutional. Although led by a Student, the prayers were still a schoolsponsored activity, the Court said, and they were coercive because they placed students in the position of having to participate in a religious ceremony.<br /> <br /> “The Constitution demands that schools not force on students the difficult choice between attending these games and avoiding personally offensive religious rituals,” the Court said.<br /> <br /> The Justices added that “nothing in the Constitution . . . Prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day.”<br /> <br /> ImPaCT: Since the Santa Fe decision, several lower courts have held that student-initiated group prayer is protected by the First Amendment if it is not sponsored by the school. This is generally understood to mean that a group of student athletes, for example, could pray together before a game in the locker room, as long as the coach or other school officials are not involved.<br /> <br /> Safford unified school district v. April redding (2009)<br /> <br /> Issue: privacy rights at school<br /> <br /> Bottom line: the court made it harder for schools to conduct strip searches.<br /> <br /> Background: savana redding was in eighth grade the day a school nurse and a secretary at safford middle school in arizona asked the 13-year-old to strip down to her bra and underwear.<br /> <br /> They were acting on orders from the assistant principal, who had gotten a tip from another student that Redding, now 21, was hiding prescription-strength ibuprofen pills. The tip turned out to be false, but the school, which had a zerotolerance drug policy, said the strip search was justified. Redding said she was humiliated and that her constitutional right against unreasonable searches was violated. Her mother, April, sued.<br /> <br /> RuLing: In an 8-to-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the school had violated Redding’s Fourth Amendment rights because the “content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of the intrusion.” But it also said the school couldn’t be sued because the laws on student searches were unclear in 2003, when the search took place. The Court Then clarified guidelines for intimate searches: School officials must consider factors like the student’s age, whether the drugs in question are dangerous enough to justify the search, and whether there is good reason to suspect that the student had hidden dangerous drugs in an intimate place on his or her body.<br /> <br /> Impact: The Redding ruling elaborates on New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985). In that case, the Court said that schools have the right to search students’ possessions, including backpacks and lockers, if there is “reasonable suspicion” that a rule has been broken. The ruling didn’t mention anything about intimate body searches.<br /> <br /> Many states, including New Jersey, California, and Iowa, have passed legislation prohibiting strip searches of students under any circumstances, and Wisconsin treats it as a criminal act.