US Supreme Court to Address Important Free Speech Case That Resulted in Arrest of Student
Our First Amendment free speech rights are a crucial part of our constitutional rights, and provide us with the ability to express our opinions without censorship or restriction. Still, each year, many are arrested for crimes such as disorderly conduct or unlawful assembly, or even more serious crimes, such as assault or battery, in connection with protesting because police and prosecutors claim that those exercising their rights are instead engaged in incitement.
Yet there is a fine line between an individual speaking their mind without threat or any intent to incite lawlessness and a demonstration that explodes into shoving and brawling. This coming fall, the US Supreme Court will hear a crucial case concerning college speech codes, which have become somewhat commonplace, including at schools in New York and New Jersey, and to what extent they violate First Amendment free speech rights, when they review the case of a student who was arrested for disorderly conduct for simply engaging in public speaking about his religion.
In this particular case, the school provided two designated “free speech expression areas”—a patio and sidewalk—which were open on most weekdays for several hours, and which students had to reserve ahead of time, in order to engage in free speech activities. Yet even though this student complied with these requirements and reserved the space in order to speak about his religion, he was still arrested for disorderly conduct after being accused of engaging in “fighting words” and using language that “has a tendency to incite hostility” because he was speaking publicly instead of simply distributing literature and having one-on-one conversations.
What The Court Will Decide On, Specifically
Interestingly, soon after his arrest, the school completely reversed its own policy and allowed students to speak anywhere on campus at any time without first having to obtain a permit, making the case moot. However, the circuit courts are split on whether the case is still “live” given the fact that the plaintiff requested nominal damages, as some have noted is commonplace with constitutional violation cases. While the 11th Circuit has ruled that a request for nominal damages does not turn a moot case into a live one, five federal appeals courts have decided that a claim for nominal damages alone precludes mootness and maintains a live dispute. This is the question that places the case before the US Supreme Court, which, as a result, will also address the question left open by two federal courts, which failed to address whether college officials violated the student’s freedom of speech rights because his case was made moot before it could be decided on the merits.
If You Have Been Arrested for Exercising Your Free Speech Rights Contact the Very Best in Defense & Civil Rights Representation
If you are being investigated or have been arrested and are facing charges for activity that is protected by your constitutional rights, it is imperative that you speak with a New York criminal defense attorney experienced in civil rights right away. Contact the office of Phillip J. Murphy for a free consultation to find out about our services—we serve clients throughout New York and New Jersey.