The Supreme Court Cases You Should Know

Here’s a list of cases you should know to be an informed and empowered citizen.

Knowing your rights, both where they start and stop, is an important part of being a high schooler approaching adulthood and independence. Here are a few of the basics you should know to keep yourself out of trouble safe.girl in classroom studying

Your phone — These days, we know you lifeline is your smartphone. It can often have a legitimate use in school: from keeping yourself on schedule, to researching a paper. But what happens when it becomes a distraction? School officials can confiscate your phone but only for a reasonable amount of time and only for reasons stated in published rules.

The information on your phone is protected, as is any property you have. Unless the school has a warrant or reasonable suspicion, they cannot search your property.

New Jersey v. T. L.O. (1985) was a case where a teacher found a student smoking in the bathroom and asked to search her purse. The school found drugs in the purse. The student argued that the teacher searched the purse without permission. Because smoking was banned on campus, the teacher had reason to search the purse for more cigarettes.

 Lesson learned: Stay within the rules and no one can bother you.

Dress code — For the most part, dress codes are 100% constitutional. Anything deemed outside a documented set of rules can be a punishable offense. School dress codes cannot restrict religious expression or reasonable speech. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) ruled two students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War were within their rights as it wasn’t directly offensive or disturbing. So if your school has a uniform, sorry, but you’re stuck.

Lesson learned: You can express yourself, but you can’t disturb others while doing so.

Free speech — In Frederick v. Morse (2007), Joseph Frederick was suspended for displaying a banner that was seen by the school principal as promoting drug use. The Court upheld the school’s decision, saying the school has a duty to protect students from anything that could undermine their education or safety. This case is often contrasted with the Tinker case, in that the banner was causing a disturbance. Before the case got to the Supreme Court, it was ruled in favor of Frederick by the Ninth Circuit Court because Frederick was off campus. The Supreme Court reversed that decision based on the banner being held across the street during a sanctioned school event, with arguable intent to disrupt it.

Lesson learned: Even if you’re not in school, if what you’re expressing could affect your academic life, you could get in trouble.

Corporal punishment — Corporal punishment is still legal in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. Most of these states, or the school districts themselves, require parental permission. The Supreme Court has yet to take up a case on the matter, so as it stands, state laws rule on this.

Lesson learned: There is still a lot of room for growth regarding student’s rights.

Not knowing something is never an excuse. And it can be a costly one. Make sure you read your school’s rulebook. If something seems off or unfair, dig into it. Summaries of most federal court cases can be found online. If you do find something that violates your rights or should be reconsidered, you’re going to have to have your parent or guardian get involved.

In the end, it’s up to you to know. Stay alert, keep yourself educated. If the law isn’t on your side, make sure the facts are. And if the facts aren’t on your side, make sure the law is.