U.S. Supreme Court denies school's petition to hear anti-Bush T-shirt case

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court today denied a public school’s petition for a writ of certiorari to hear arguments in a case involving a student who was suspended for wearing a T-shirt depicting President George W. Bush surrounded by images of illegal drugs and alcohol.

This denial comes four days after the Court ruled in Morse v. Frederick, the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, that school officials may punish students for speech that encourages illegal drug use. Legal experts said the Court likely refused to hear Marineau v. Guiles because the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that disciplining the student would violate the First Amendment adheres to the Court’s holding in Morse.

Zach Guiles, 14, was suspended by Williamstown Middle High School in Williamstown, Vt., in May 2004 when he arrived on campus wearing a T-shirt that called President Bush “Chicken-Hawk-in-Chief” who is engaging in a “World Domination Tour” and depicted the president surrounded by pictures of cocaine and a martini glass.

School officials told the student that his shirt violated the school’s dress code and he could avoid punishment by turning the shirt inside out, taping over the images or wearing a different shirt. He refused and was suspended for one day.

Guiles returned the following day wearing the same T-shirt covered with duct tape on which he had written the word “censored.”

Guiles and his parents sued the school in a U.S. district court in Vermont, which found that the school could not censor the political message expressed by the words on the T-shirt but could censor some of the images. But Guiles appealed, and the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last August that the school had no right to censor the images on the shirt. The appeals court applied the 1969 ruling Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District to decide that Guiles’s shirt was protected under the First Amendment because it did not create any “disruption or confrontation in the school.”

Adam Goldstein, Student Press Law Center attorney advocate, said the Court likely decided not to hear the case because the Second Circuit’s decision fit neatly within the framework of the “Bong Hits” case.

“The denial of certiorari makes sense in light of Morse,” he said. “The shirt in this case was clearly making a political statement and the Supreme Court makes clear that is protected.”