U.S. Supreme Court Cases

During one of the legs of the highly-televised 2008 Olympic torch relay, Joseph Frederick and other students were allowed to participate and watch the passing of the torch in Juneau, Alaska as part of a school sanctioned event. Frederick, respondent, with a few friends, unfurled a huge banner with the words ‘Bong Hits for Jesus’ written across to attract the attention of the television camera crews.

The school principal, petitioner in this case, saw the banner from across the street and walked towards them to demand that they put down the banner. Frederick refused to obey the principal and as such was sent to the principal’s office and thereafter suspended for ten days for allegedly promoting and advocating drug use. Fredrick, feeling aggrieved, filed a case against the school for having abridged his constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech under the first amendment.

The main issue in this case is whether or not the principal violated respondent’s right to free speech when she took down the banner and for suspending respondent for displaying to the crowd of students and the general public during school hours a message which arguably made patent reference to the use and taking of marijuana. Alternatively, the heart of the case revolves around the question whether a principal may “restrict student speech at a school event when that speech is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use” in relation to the free speech clause found in the First Amendment.

Pertinent to the discussion of the right to free speech, the Court cited a previous decision made in the landmark case of Tinker v. Des Moines where the doctrine was laid down that the students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” . Corollary, the Court also held in the same case that the “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students” .

The case of Tinker also established the standard which extends the rights of student to speech substantially. As such, a school prohibition of a student’s action and speech cannot be held as constitutional if there is no finding that the conduct would “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school” .

As such, the Court ruled that the students who wore armbands inside the school to protest the Vietnam War even when expressly prohibited by the school administration cannot be castigated for their acts for such fall well within the ambit of their First Amendment rights. However, the Court makes mention of the case of Bethel School v. Fraser wherein the Court decided that the “school District acted entirely within its permissible authority in imposing sanctions upon Fraser in response to his offensively lewd and indecent speech. " .

In that case, Fraser was suspended for making a speech before the student body which was laced with lecherous and lewd metaphors . and the Court held that the sanction was permissible under the constitution because of the circumstances present in the case. At any rate, the decision in Fraser qualified if not departed from the standards of Tinker since there was no material disruption in the operation of the school yet the sanctions against his speech was upheld . Perhaps the most important discussion in the decision was the reference made to the case of Vernonia School Dist.

v. Acton wherein the Court ruled that although the students do no shed their constitutional rights when they enter school, nevertheless “the nature of those rights is what is appropriate for children in school” . The teachers acting in loco parentis may thus exercise reasonable ‘tutelary’ and custodial prerogatives over the students when they deem it necessary especially to prevent harmful conduct and speech . Thus in the case at bar, what was sought to be prevented was the advocacy and promotion of drug use which necessarily is a legitimate school and even government concern.

Unlike the case of Tinker, the message contained in the banner was in all respects an obvious celebration of marijuana use. The ramifications do not end at just ‘material disruption’ nor ‘raising actual controversy’ but spans the whole gamut of drug use in schools as a relevant and recurring problem in society. Accordingly, the Court ruled that the school may restrict conduct and speech of students when it is clear that these actions lend towards the notion of the use of illegal drugs.

Lastly, the case of Frederick has important constitutional significance because the Court has created another exception to the rule in the standard established in jurisprudence in relation to speech in school. Likewise, the concurring and dissenting opinion revealed the existing tension on the limitations of such a standard, with one Justice openly and strongly advocating that the doctrine in Tinker must be now abandoned. Baze v. Rees 553 U. S. ___ (2008) Eighth Amendment: Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Facts and issues are stated in the brief. The case brings into the fore the question whether the administration of three-drug cocktail protocol to a death convict violates the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments since there is a significant risk that the procedure may not be followed properly thereby causing inhumane suffering in the process. Baze v. Reese is one of the latest and leading cases that challenge the constitutionality of lethal injection as a means to mete out capital punishment.

Petitioners were convicted of double homicide and were sentenced to die for their crimes in the state of Kentucky. They concede that lethal injection is comparatively the least painful form of capital punishment but nevertheless argue that the current procedure is flawed and thus proposed an alternative means which has not been tried. The Court ruled that capital punishment is not prohibited under the Eighth Amendment clause which provides that “cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted as was elucidated in Robinson v. California .

Yet the issue is not one on the constitutionality of capital punishment but rather the apprehended constitutional infirmity of lethal injection as a means to deliver the death sentence. The Court ruled that current lethal injection procedure does not violate the sanction laid down by the Eighth Amendment since the risks that the petitioner pointed out are reasonable and acceptable, and that these are not likely to happen. To bolster the claim that lethal injection procedures are not unconstitutional, the Court went into a discussion of the various changes and improvements in the methods of capital punishment in history.

Citing the decision in Campbell v. Wood , capital punishment has improved from firing squad to hanging—then the universal form of execution, towards the utilization of electrocution considered to be “the most humane and practical method known to modern science (then) of carrying into effect the sentence of death” even the use of gas chambers . In the present day, states that adopt capital punishment are now using lethal injection as a better alternative.

The procedure consists of administering of drugs in succession which has the effect of anesthetizing the convict, paralyzing him and eventually forcing the heart to lapse into cardiac arrest . The concern of the petitioner is that when the first drug is not administered properly, they might suffer excruciating pain when the last two are injected. They allege that the personnel in charge of the execution are not properly trained, that the facilities are inadequate and that the formula for lethal injection is prone to maladministration because of insufficient doses .

However, the Court sternly disputed the allegations saying that the procedures are too simple and easy to do that mistakes are highly unlikely. Even in the instance when there is a mistake in the administration, the Court ruled, citing the separate opinion of Justice Frankfurter in Farmer v. Brennan , that “an isolated mishap alone does not give rise to an Eight Amendment violation, precisely because such an event, while regrettable, does not suggest cruelty, or that procedure at issue gives rise to a substantial risk of serious harm” .

The constitutional arguments and controversies raised in the case are not novel. However, the case is significant as well as instructive in the discussion of the Eight Amendment clause against cruel and unusual punishment since society has become more wary about the inhumanity of capital punishment per se. Although the decision in this case supported the continued practice of capital punishment, the dissent of Justice Blackmun in Campbell v.

Wood and Justice Ginsburg in the case at bar reveal the ongoing debate on the viability of different modes of capital punishments: electrocution and lethal injection respectively. However, at present, there seems to be no signs that the Court will overturn a method of execution chosen by a state anytime soon. In fact, in this case, the Court was absolutely apprehensive if not reluctant about declaring the use of lethal injection in states where capital punishment is practiced as unconstitutional. State of Virginia v.

David Lee Moore 553 U. S. ___ (2008) Fourth Amendment: Unreasonable Searches and Seizures Facts and issues are stated in the brief. The state of Virginia raises on petition via a certiorari the decision of the State Supreme Court reversing the conviction of respondent Moore on the basis of the finding that the arrest made against Moore was in violation of the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Moore was arrested for driving with a suspended license—a misdemeanour crime in Virginia law.

After the arrest was made his car was searched. The arresting officers found substantial amounts of cocaine. He was charged with illegal possession of cocaine with intent to distribute—acts contrary to law under Virginia law. However, Moore filed a motion to suppress evidence alleging that his right against unreasonable search and seizure was violated since the arresting officers had no authority to conduct the search which led to the discovery of the cocaine.

He contends that the arresting officers “should have issued Moore a summons instead of arresting him” primarily because “driving on a suspended license, like some other misdemeanours, is not an arrestable (sic) offense” . unless any of the following conditions are met: 1) there is a risk of continuing or repeating the violation, 2) the person is likely to disregard summons, and/or 3) the person might harm the officers or others .

Upon a finding that none of these conditions were present the State Supreme Court reversed his conviction since the search and seizure was not incident to a lawful arrest and the evidence cannot be legally admitted in the trial. The Federal Supreme Court ruled otherwise. Looking into the legislative history of the formulation of the doctrine against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, the Court said that the rule embraces the concepts of search and seizure in general Common Law.

When state statutes confer higher standards for search and seizure to be effected the Federal constitution on unreasonable search and seizure does not change viz. “when an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime in his presence, the balancing of private and public interest is not in doubt” ; That “the Fourth Amendment permits them to make an arrest, and to search the suspect in order to safeguard evidence and ensure their own safety” .

Indeed, in a long line of case thus far decided on the same issue whether prohibition by state law on certain instances against search and seizure will have the effect of limiting the spirit and intent of the guaranty against unlawful search and seizure, the Court held that the common law concept is fixed and is not subject to state statutes which vary from across different states. As such, in Cooper v.

California , the Court had the occasion to rule that the search of a seized vehicle, despite the fact that the law of the state does not authorize a search, is valid and does not violate the constitution. Likewise, in California v. Greenwood , the court ruled that “the search of garbage forbidden by California’s constitution” . does not invalidate the acts of the officers which are completely permissible under the Fourth Amendment.

The doctrine laid down in both cases is applied in this case. The doctrine states that it does not matter whether a state enacts stringent standards prohibiting arresting officers from making searches and seizures of the person and the immediate premises, so long as the search and seizure are constitutionally valid under the Fourth Amendment, then the evidence found in the possession of the person arrested and within his proximity cannot be excluded in trial neither suppressed.

Case List

Atwater v. City of Largo Vista 532 U. S. 318 (2001) Baze v. Rees 553 U. S. ___ (2008) Bethel School v. Fraser 478 U. S. 675 (1986) Campbell v. Wood 511 U. S. 1119 (1994) California v. Greenwood 286 U. S. 35 (1988) Cooper v. California 386 U. S. 58 (1967) Deborah Morse v. Joseph Frederick 551 U. S. ___ (2007) Farmer v. Brennan 511 U. S. 825, 836 (1994)