Federal court overturns Mich. 'verbal assault' law

MICHIGAN — A federal court ruled in September that a Michigan state law requiring public school districts to suspend or expel students who commit a “verbal assault” is unconstitutional.

In September 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit on behalf of Alex Smith, then 17, claiming the Mount Pleasant School District violated the First Amendment when ad-ministrators suspended him for 10 days for a parody he wrote about the school’s tardy policy.

Smith’s suspension was based on the 1999 Michigan law that required all public school districts to suspend or expel students for committing a “verbal assault.”

The court wrote that the state law and district policy could not be enforced because they were “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.” The court wrote that “the mere fact that someone might take offense at the content of speech is not sufficient justification for prohibiting it.”

However, the court said that punishing Smith for his “disrespectful comments” toward administrators did not violate his First Amendment rights and therefore denied the request to change Smith’s school records. 

CASE: Smith v. Mount Pleasant Public Schools, Case No. 01-10312-BC (E.D. Mich. Sept. 30, 2003)