Education and the Supreme Court: The 2010-11 Term
The U.S. Supreme Court's recently concluded term generated significant rulings for the rights of children, school board members, school employees, and litigants seeking to challenge aid to private schools. I have this overview in the July 13 print edition of Education Week. Below are my Top Ten decisions of the Supreme Court term of interest to educators.
J.D.B. v. North Carolina (Case No. 09-11121)
The justices ruled 5-4 that age was a relevant factor in determining whether a juvenile criminal suspect merits a Miranda warning about the rights against self-incrimination. The decision came in a case in which a youth had been interrogated at his school by police and school administrators and confessed to committing neighborhood thefts without the benefit of a Miranda warning.
Camreta v. Greene (No. 09-1454)
The court concluded after hearing arguments it could not decide whether police and child-abuse investigators required a warrant or parental consent to question students in school. But the justices set aside a lower-court ruling requiring a warrant in such circumstances, and they made it easier for government officials to appeal an unfavorable constitutional ruling even when they have won a lower court decision on immunity grounds. The specific case, involving a girl whom authorities believe was being sexually abused at home, was moot, the court held.
Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (No. 08-1448)
The justices ruled 7-2 to strike down a California law that barred the sale of violent video games to anyone under age 18. The court said video games were deserving of the full protection of the First Amendment, and it noted that violent themes pervade children's literature, from fairy tales to high school reading lists. The government has no "free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed," the court said.
CHURCH AND STATE
Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (No. 09-987)
The court ruled 5-4 that taxpayers who opposed a state tax credit benefiting private religious schools lacked standing to challenge the program. Any financial benefit to religion under the program was not the result of government spending choices, the court held in a ruling that removed the last legal cloud over a 13-year-old Arizona program that provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to "school tuition organizations."
FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri (No. 09-1476)
The court ruled 8-1 that a government employee alleging retaliation for a workplace grievance cannot win a claim under the First Amendment's "petition" clause unless the employee's grievance is about a matter of public concern.
Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan (No. 10-568)
The court ruled unanimously that the act of voting by a lawmaker is not protected speech under the First Amendment. The decision upheld a Nevada ethics law for local officials, including school board members, that requires them to abstain from voting on or participating in debates on matters implicating their own financial interests or those of their close associates.
CIVIL RIGHTS LIABILITY
Los Angeles County v. Humphries (No. 09-350)
The court ruled 8-0 that a key precedent on municipal liability for civil rights violations applies even when a plaintiff is seeking only an injunction or a declaratory judgment, in contrast to monetary damages. The decision, which has implications for civil rights cases against school districts, came in the case of a California teacher and her husband who were wrongfully accused of child abuse but could not remove their names from a state child-abuse registry.
Staub v. Proctor Hospital (No. 09-400)
In a case watched by school board attorneys, the court made it easier for workers to win discrimination suits based on the "cat's paw" theory of liability. That is when a biased subordinate dupes a decisionmaker into taking an adverse job action against the subordinate's target. The decision was 8-0.
Thompson v. North American Stainless LP (No. 09-291)
In a case with implications for school districts, the court ruled 8-0 that an employee who was fired after his fiancée had filed a sex-discrimination complaint had a valid claim for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Bruesewitz v. Wyeth (No. 09-152)
In a case of interest to the autism community, the court ruled 6-2 that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 preempted all design-defect claims brought by plaintiffs seeking compensation for injuries caused by the side effects of vaccines.