Doninger v. Niehoff
In the Spring 2007 semester, 17-year-old Avery Doninger referred to some of her high school administrators as douchebags in a blog post complaining about the cancellation of a battle of the bands. When the Superintendent became aware of the post, Doninger was punished by being prevented from running from student government. In fact, when she won as a write-in candidate, the school prevented her from taking office.
Doninger sued, arguing that imposing discipline for a blog post made outside of school violated her First Amendment rights. The Federal District Court of Connecticut ruled in favor of the school on the theory that the post was “disruptive” because it called on members of the public to complain to the district about the cancellation of the battle of the bands. Doninger appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where the SPLC filed its brief.
Whether this speech should be punishable by a school at all is highly questionable—it was made off campus in the personal time of a student, and if a school can reach this speech, then query what speech will ever be beyond their reach—but the SPLC’s brief argues further that the Tinker standard, if correctly and coherently applied, could never permit the imposition of discipline for asking the public to contact public officials to express an objection to the performance of public duties.
In 2011, the appeals court upheld the District court ruling, dealing a blow to the state of student free expression rights in the Second Circuit.