Pickering v. Board of Education

PETITIONER: Marvin L. Pickering
RESPONDENT: Board of Education of Township High School District 205, Will County
LOCATION: Lockport Central High School

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 391 US 563 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 27, 1968
DECIDED: Jun 03, 1968
GRANTED: Nov 06, 1967

John F. Cirricione - for the appellee
John Ligtenberg - for the appellant

Facts of the case

Marvin Pickering, a teacher, was a plaintiff in the Supreme Court of the USA regarding the infringement of his constitutional rights. The issue was in that he wrote a letter to the Lockport Herald editor claiming on the assumption of the school board to raise the level of school tax. This writing was evaluated as a complaint on the mentioned decision regarding the division of money on education and sports purposes at school. After that, the order the teacher was dismissed for publishing that letter under the order approved by the Board.

The plaintiff filed a claim before the court arguing that his personal letter as a speech referred to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. The case study found that the both district and appellate courts of Illinois refused his lawsuit.

Pickering appealed with this issue to the Supreme Court. The case brief summarizes that the judges decided that his dismissal violated the First Amendment and especially every person`s right to free speech. The defendant argued that his letter did huge damages to the reputation of the educational establishment, its members and caused conflicts between other teachers. The judgment considered his statements as not false or reckless, which were exceptions of the constitutional guarantee. The school board didn`t present enough facts and arguments proving that facts.

The case study found that this decision was different from later Garcetti v. Ceballos judgment that stated that speech of public employees regarding their work doesn`t refer to the subjects of the First Amendment.


Was Pickering’s letter constitutionally-protected free speech?

Media for Pickering v. Board of Education

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 1968 in Pickering v. Board of Education

Earl Warren:

510, Marvin L. Pickering, appellant, versus Board of Education of Township High School District 205, Will County Illinois.

Mr. Ligtenberg, you may proceed with your argument.

John Ligtenberg:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case has considerable similarity to the one that you heard yesterday afternoon from Alaska.

Marvin Pickering was dismissed by the Board of Education of Lockport, Illinois because he wrote a letter to the -- which is published in the local paper in which he criticized the Board of Education.

All other reasons for his dismissal are excluded in this case.

The only question therefore before you is precisely a First Amendment question.

The public high school Board of Lockport, Illinois had over a period of years faced the usual growing problems that had been common in the last numbers of years in that prior of the country and elsewhere.

In 1962, it had presented a bond issue to the purpose of erecting a public high school, a new public high school.

That bond issue lost.

Same -- later that same year with some revisions and plans and with other arguments in favor of the new school building, a larger bond issue for five and half million dollars was presented to the voters and that bond issue passed.

The situation then continued or until about 1964 when the Board decided that it needed more money and a higher tax rate to run the school -- the high schools of that district and it presented a tax rate referendum to the Board of Education -- to the people of that community some time in the Spring.

That tax referendum lost.

Later in -- another one was offered, another tax rate referendum was offered in September.

And on September 22nd or 19th rather, that referendum was voted upon and it lost.

Marvin Pickering was a teacher in that high school.

He is a science teacher.

He had been attending meetings of the Board of Education for the last two years until he was not only familiar with their problems but also knew the reasons why they were having trouble getting their message across to the public.

Therefore, he wrote a letter which he submitted to the Editor of the Lockport Herald on about the 22nd of September just three days after the election.

And that letter at his request was published in the Lockport Herald on -- in the issue of September 24.

On October 8, just two weeks later, the Board of Education voted to dismiss him.

Now, I perhaps want to spend a little time going into some of the allegations of that letter a little bit later.

Earl Warren:

May I ask, was he given a hearing of any kind, a trial or?

John Ligtenberg:

Yes he was Your Honor.

He was a tenure teacher under the laws of Illinois, have served with probationary period and under that he was entitled to notice and a hearing.

He did get notice, and he received the hearing and it was after that the Board voted to dismiss him.

That was subsequently taken to the Circuit Court of that county under the provisions of the Illinois Administrative Review Act and thus again finally thus -- as to the Supreme Court of Illinois and then finally here of course.

Of course we are here because he lost at each of those three stages.

The charges against him on page 10 -- of the -- page -- Volume 1 of the appendix and while I don't want to read them all, I just want to advert to some of the high spots in these charges.

That -- it starts on page nine.