SCOTUS Rules School Violated Cheerleader's Rights With Suspension Over Snapchat Post

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a Pennsylvania public school violated a high school cheerleader's rights by suspending her over using explicit language in a Snapchat post.

Brandy Levy was 14 and a freshman when she made the post after not making the varsity cheerleading team. She was suspended from the junior varsity cheerleading team for a year. In an 8-1 vote, the court ruled the school infringed on Levy's First Amendment rights.

The court's ruling was based on Justice Stephen Breyer's opinion and Levy was not on school campus when she posted the Snapchat. Breyer wrote "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."

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented and said he would have supported the school's suspension of Levy. She is now 18 and finished her freshman year of college.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court is shown on June 22. The court ruled a Pennsylvania public school violated a cheerleader's First Amendment rights. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Levy, of Mahanoy City, Pa., expressed her disappointment over not making the varsity cheerleading squad on Snapchat with a string of curse words and a raised middle finger.

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.

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

"F*** school f*** softball f*** cheer f*** everything," she wrote near the end of her freshman year.

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.

The dispute is the latest in a line of cases that began with Tinker v. Des Moines, the Vietnam-era case of a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, that suspended students who wore armbands to protest the war. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the students, declaring students don't "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

The court also held then that schools retained the authority to restrict speech that would disrupt the school environment.

Breyer wrote that Levy's case seemed less serious than its Vietnam-era predecessor.

"It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.'s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary," he wrote, using Levy's initials because that was how she was identified in the original lawsuit. Levy has granted numerous interviews allowing her name to be used.

Update- 06/23/2021 - 11:55 AM - This story has been updated with additional information.

Dark Clouds Above Supreme Court
In this June 8, 2021 photo, with dark clouds overhead, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo