Tinker v. Des Moines, Hazlewood v. Kuhlmier, Morse v. Frederick. Now, Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L.

A middle finger on Snapchat unleashed a fury of legal questions around how much authority school administrators should have to censor students while they are away from campus. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L. The court's ruling, expected in June or July, will affect every student in the nation.

Why did the Supreme Court take the case?

Only the Supreme Court justices themselves know why any case is selected. But most likely, at least four of the justices thought the 3rd Circuit court's ruling (which you can read about here) needed to be reviewed because it created a clear legal distinction between on and off-campus student speech, significantly limiting the authority of public school officials to regulate the latter.


What's at stake?

The Court is being asked to rule whether the Tinker standard it created in 1969, which specifically addressed the free speech rights of students in school and the corresponding authority of school officials to regulate in-school speech, should be applied to student speech (including social media posts to a personal account) that occurs off-campus.

What's Next?

Because this case is being heard so late in the Supreme Court's term, it's likely we won't see a decision until June (and possibly early July), when the current term officially ends.

Read Our 5 Minute Guide to the Case

Resources for reporting and learning


Discuss the case with your class:

Share our Five Minute Guide and use our discussion prompts to begin a conversation. 

Tell this story: 

This quote is from Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center for use in reporting this story. Contact Andrew Benson,, to schedule an interview or for more information.

Mike Hiestand, Senior Legal Counsel: “As we told the Court in our brief, “Nothing in the Constitution or this Court’s precedents supports establishing second-class citizenship as a consequence of school enrollment.” Attaching that asterisk to our next generation of journalists and citizens 24/7 fundamentally alters the balance between the government and those they govern. Make no mistake, this is a real-life First Amendment civics lesson more important than anything that will ever be conveyed in a classroom and it will have far-reaching consequences.”


Listen to the proceedings and find transcripts:

Made available by the US Supreme Court: Audio | Transcript
Austin Vining, a Ph.D. and J.D. Candidate at the University of Florida, talks about being a participant in the Student Press Law Center's Summer Media Law & Policy Institute in 2020 and why he recommends the program to others interested in this field.

Last chance to apply for SPLC's Summer Media Law & Policy Institute

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Applications from current law students, 2021 law school graduates, and advanced undergraduates with a strong interest in law school will be considered. We are looking for students with a demonstrated interest in media law. Students from diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

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