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Law School Case Brief

Hardwick v. Heyward - 711 F.3d 426 (4th Cir. 2013)

Rule:

Although students' expression of their views and opinions is an important part of the educational process and receives some First Amendment protection, the right of students to speak in school is limited by the need for school officials to ensure order, protect the rights of other students, and promote the school's educational mission. When student speech threatens to disrupt school, school officials may prohibit or punish that speech.

Facts:

On multiple occasions at Latta Middle School and Latta High School in Latta, South Carolina, school offiicials prohibited appellant plaintiff student Candice Hardwick from wearing, and on one occasion punished her, for wearing Confederate flag shirts at school. Candice Hardwick, by and through her parents, brought the present action against appellee defendants school principals and the school board pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her First Amendment right to free speech and expression and her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. Hardwick challenged the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the defendants on both her First and Fourteenth Amendment claims.

Issue:

  1. Did defendant school officials violate student Hardwick’s First Amendment right to free speech and expression by refusing to let her wear Confederate flag shirts and protest shirts?
  2. Were the schools’ dress codes unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, violating Hardwick’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process; and were they not viewpoint neutral, violating her right to equal protection?

Answer:

1) No. 2) No.

Conclusion:

The Circuit Court of Appeals held that there was no violation of the First Amendment because multiple incidents of racial tension in the schools and the potential for vastly different views among students about the meaning of the Confederate flag provided a sufficient basis to justify the school officials' conclusion that the Confederate flag shirts would cause a substantial disruption. The school officials also properly did not allow Hardwick to wear a protest shirt because the protest shirt was undoubtedly likely to cause a disruption. Moreover, the Court averred that the dress codes were not overbroad because they were guided by the cases of Tinker and Fraser, and, thus, there was no real danger that they compromised the First Amendment rights of other students. There was also nothing about the dress codes that were so vague that Hardwick was unable to conform her speech to the required standards. There was no equal protection violation because the dress codes were viewpoint neutral and were enforced in a viewpoint-neutral manner. Thus, the judgment of the district court was affirmed.

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