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Law School Case Brief

Bd. of Educ. v. Pico - 457 U.S. 853, 102 S. Ct. 2799 (1982)


The States and local school boards have discretion in matters of education that must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment


Petitioner Board of Education ("Board"), characterizing a number of books as "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy," directed their removal from the libraries of a district high school and junior high school. The Board appointed a committee of parents and members of the school staff to make recommendations about the books. However, it substantially rejected the committee's recommendations. Plaintiffs Pico and several fellow students attending the junior high school and high school brought an action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging that the Board's actions denied them their rights under the First Amendment just because it found the books to be offensive to its social, political, and moral tastes. The students sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Board, finding that the Board acted not on religious principles, but on its conservative education philosophy, in ordering the removal of the books. It held that although the removal was content-based, there was no constitutional violation of the requisite magnitude. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the action for a trial on the students' allegations.


Did the court of appeals err in remanding the case for trial?




The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the decision, basing its judgment on the ground that there were genuine issues of material fast as to the reasons for the Board's removal of the books. In a plurality opinion, three justices were of the opinion that the students had a First Amendment right to receive ideas and information as a necessary predicate to their meaningful exercise of the rights of speech, press, and political freedom. Another justice concurring in the judgment opined that the state had no authority to deny access to ideas for political reasons, while a fifth justice concurring in the judgment did not want to reach the First Amendment question on an incomplete record.

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