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This Nov. 4, 2020, photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington. (AP file photo)

Court rules for cursing cheerleader, against mortgage agency

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania public school wrongly suspended a student from cheerleading over a vulgar social media post she made after she didn’t qualify for the varsity team.

The court voted 8-1 in favor of Brandi Levy, who was a 14-year-old high school freshman when she expressed her disappointment over not making the varsity cheerleading squad with a string of curse words and a raised middle finger on Snapchat.

Levy, of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, was not in school when she made her post, but she was suspended from cheerleading activities for a year anyway. In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the high court ruled that the suspension violated Levy’s First Amendment freedom of speech rights.

But the justices did not foreclose schools from disciplining students for what they say off campus. An earlier federal appeals court ruling in this case would have barred public schools from punishing off-campus speech.

Despite ruling in Levy’s favor, Breyer wrote that “we do not believe the special characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech always disappear when a school regulates speech that takes place off campus. The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances.”

The case drew extra interest at a time of remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic and a rising awareness of the harmful effects of online bullying.

The case arose from Levy’s posts, one of which pictured her and a friend with raised middle fingers and included repeated use of a vulgarity to complain that she had been left off the varsity cheerleading squad.

Now 18, Levy recently finished her first year of college.

Levy’s parents filed a federal lawsuit after the cheerleading coach suspended her from the junior varsity team for a year. Lower courts ruled in Levy’s favor, and she was reinstated.

The school district appealed to the Supreme Court after the broad appellate ruling that said off-campus student speech was beyond schools’ authority to punish.

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he would have upheld Levy’s suspension.

Mortgage overseer structure

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the structure of the agency that oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac violates separation of powers principles in the Constitution.

The justices sent the case involving Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and was created during the 2008 financial crisis, back to a lower court for additional proceedings.

Shareholders of the two companies had argued that the FHFA’s structure was unconstitutional and that the justices should set aside a 2012 agreement under which the companies have paid the government billions. That money is compensation for the taxpayer bailout that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received following the 2008 financial crisis.

The justices didn’t go that far in their decision.

The “FHFA’s structure violates the separation of powers, and we remand for further proceedings to determine what remedy, if any, the shareholders are entitled to receive on their constitutional claim,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for a majority of the court.

The case is in many ways similar to one the justices decided last year involving the FHFA’s companion agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is the government’s consumer watchdog agency. It was created by Congress in response to the same financial crisis.

In the case involving the bureau, the court struck down restrictions Congress imposed that said the president could only fire the bureau’s director for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”

Just as the bureau’s leader was, the director of the FHFA is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to a five-year term. In the FHFA’s case, the director was only removable by the president “for cause.”

The two consolidated cases the court ruled in are Collins v. Yellen, 19-422, and Yellen v. Collins, 19-563.

Police entry into homes

The Supreme Court on Wednesday put limits on when police officers pursuing a fleeing suspect can enter a home without a warrant.

The high court ruled  that when officers are pursuing someone suspected of a misdemeanor, a less serious crime, they cannot always enter a home without a warrant if a suspect enters.

The court had previously said that police in “hot pursuit” of a suspect believed to have committed a more serious crime, a felony, can enter a home without a warrant.

The case the justices decided Wednesday is important both to law enforcement and to groups concerned about privacy.

“The flight of a suspected misdemeanant does not always justify a warrantless entry into a home. An officer must consider all the circumstances in a pursuit case to determine whether there is a law enforcement emergency,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for a majority of the court.

The case before the justices involved California resident Arthur Lange. One evening in 2016, an officer saw Lange driving his station wagon in Sonoma County, playing music loudly and honking his horn several times. The officer believed those were noise violations punishable by small fines and followed Lange. The officer later turned on his car’s lights to get Lange to stop. But Lange continued driving for about four seconds, turned into his driveway and entered his garage without stopping.

The officer got out of his car and, as Lange’s garage door was closing, stuck his foot under the door so it would re-open. Lange was ultimately arrested after the officer smelled alcohol on his breath, and he was charged with driving under the influence as well as an excessive noise offense.

Lange argued that the officer’s entry into the garage without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free of “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The case is Lange v. California, 20-18.

 

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