Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District

RESPONDENT:Western Line Consolidated School District
LOCATION:Collision between Mr. Montrym’s car and motorcycle

DOCKET NO.: 77-1051
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 439 US 410 (1979)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1978
DECIDED: Jan 09, 1979

David Rubin – for petitioner
J. Robertshaw – for respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 07, 1978 in Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 09, 1979 in Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in No. 77-1051, Givhan against Western Line Consolidated School District will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

In this case, petitioner Givhan was a junior high school English teacher in a rural consolidated school district in Northern Mississippi.

When the school district fired her, she filed an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi seeking reinstatement on the grounds that nonrenewal of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

In an effort to show that its decision was justified, the school district introduced evidence of a series of run-ins between petitioner and the school principal.

The District Court ruled in favor of the teacher, petitioner in this case, but the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed that judgment and ruled in favor of the school district.

It decided that since the teacher’s expressions of views had been conveyed privately to the principal, that expression was not protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States constitution.

We reverse the Court of Appeals.

Although most if not all of our previous First Amendment cases have involved public expression on the part of a government employee, that largely coincidental fact was not critical to the those decisions.

Nor is the Court of Appeals’ view supported by the captive audience rationale for having agreed to listen to the teacher’s views, the principal was hardly in the position to argue that he was an unwilling recipient of.

The First Amendment forbids governmental abridgment of the freedom of speech whether that speech is expressed publicly to the world at large or privately to other individuals.

We remand the case to the District Court however for consideration of the school district’s claim that petitioner’s contract would not have been renewed even if her private encounters with the principal had not taken place.

Mr. Justice Stevens while joining the opinion of the Court has filed a concurring opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.