The Supreme Court on Wednesday voted 8-1 to protect a Pennsylvania high school cheerleader who was kicked off her squad for a social-media rant in a landmark decision affecting the First Amendment protections of students and their right to free off-campus speech. Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer argued, “It might be tempting to dismiss Bs words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary.”
The incident behind the pivotal case occurred in May 2017, when then-14-year-old Pennsylvania high school freshman Brandi Levy let fly a salty Snapchat post after failing to make the varsity cheerleading squad. “Fuck school, fuck softball, fuck cheer, fuck everything,” Levy wrote, referring also to the right fielder’s position she didn’t get on the softball team. Levy’s coaches got wind of the post and kicked her off the JV cheerleading team for a year, saying she had violated team rules that included prohibitions against “foul language and inappropriate gestures,” as well as a rule forbidding “any negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches placed on the internet.” The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Levy demanding she be reinstated to the cheerleading squad. As Levy’s lawyer David Cole argued, students shouldn’t be required to “effectively carry the schoolhouse on their backs in terms of speech rights everywhere they go.”
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the case, writing that Levy’s remarks both on- and off-campus should be held to a higher standard due to her position.