Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioners, officers and members of the school board (Petitioners), sought to remove “objectionable” books from school shelves. The Respondents, Pico and other students at the high school and junior high school (Respondents), brought action in the District Court, seeking injunctive relief from the pulling of the books.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) also encompasses a right to receive information. In the school setting, a student’s right to receive available viewpoints cannot be suppressed by school officials merely because they politically disagree with the information.
But our Constitution says we must take this risk, and our history says that it is this sort of hazardous freedom--this kind of openness--that is the basis of our national strength and of the independence and vigor of Americans who grow up and live in this relatively permissive, often disputatious, society.View Full Point of Law
Issue. This case explores whether the First Amendment of the Constitution limits members of a local school board in their discretion to remove certain books from the school’s library.
In Affirming the Judgment of the Appeals Court, the Supreme Court found that the Constitution, through the First Amendment, does not permit suppression of ideas. The Petitioners had not shown the books were of a vulgar character and could not remove them simply because they disagreed with the political beliefs of the authors. Finally, the court noted that students, as do adults, have a right to receive information and that they should not be suppressed from receiving available information, merely because school officials do not agree with its sources.
Dissent. Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger) dissented, noting that school authorities should have broad discretion when instilling fundamental values and fundamental values cannot be considered if school officials are limited when making content-based decisions. Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) also dissented, noting that the idea that Respondents’ right of access to information, within the school, should not burden the school’s obligation to teach social values. Because school curriculums are tailored to the teaching of specific ideas, J. Rehnquist found that confining the contents of the library to suit these ideas was not unreasonable.
Concurrence. Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun), in his concurrence, notes that the “right to receive” information is beyond the scope of this case and that any form of state discrimination of ideas is facially improper.
Discussion. In considering this case, it is important to notice the narrowness of the Supreme Court’s decision. The majority of the Supreme Court held that a student’s right to receive available information could not be suppressed by school officials who might disagree. The court also noted, however, if the information was not readily available (i.e. if the books were not already on the shelves), students would be deprived of no particular rights in suppressing the information.