Conflicting online speech rulings vacated, will be heard by full Third Circuit

The 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania ordered April 9 that the seemingly conflicting rulings in two student online speech cases be vacated and heard by the full court in June.

Cases: Layshock v. Hermitage School Dist., 593 F.3d 249 (3d Cir. 2010) (rehearing en banc granted, opinion vacated (April 9, 2010)); J.S. v. Blue Mountain School Dist., 593 F.3d 286 (3d Cir. 2010) (rehearing en banc granted, opinion vacated (April 9, 2010)).

SPLC View: This is a good development. As most observers noted when these decisions were handed down, they are legally difficult to reconcile, and more importantly, send a confusing practical message to schools and students. The students involved in both cases created fake MySpace profiles mocking school officials. The Layshock court ruled that the law protected a student’s right to speak freely off-campus, the judges in Blue Mountain permitted a school to punish a student for doing so. While the decisions probably accurately reflect the sharp division on the issue of school control over off-campus student speech that exists not only among judges, but in the public at large, the conflicting opinions left both students and school officials in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania