In Morse v. Fredrick, Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court:
I don’t get it. I see nowhere in the sign is there either an implicit or explicit message that the bong-hits must be illegal. How can the court distill the message that illegal drug use is being advocated? Those who follow Jesus, who believe he stood for relieving suffering and healing the sick, could just as easily understood the message to support medicinal marijuana use.
Morse [the principal who confiscated the banner and suspended the student] later explained that she told Frederick to take the banner down because she thought it encouraged illegal drug use, in violation of established school policy. Juneau School Board Policy No. 5520 states: “The Board specifically prohibits any assembly or public expression that … advocates the use of substances that are illegal to minors … .” Id., at 53a.
We agree with Morse. At least two interpretations of the words on the banner demonstrate that the sign advocated the use of illegal drugs. First, the phrase could be interpreted as an imperative: “[Take] bong hits …”—a message equivalent, as Morse explained in her declaration, to “smoke marijuana” or “use an illegal drug.” Alternatively, the phrase could be viewed as celebrating drug use—“bong hits [are a good thing],” or “[we take] bong hits”—and we discern no meaningful distinction between celebrating illegal drug use in the midst of fellow students and outright advocacy or promotion. See Guiles v. Marineau, 461 F. 3d 320, 328 (CA2 2006) (discussing the present case and describing the sign as “a clearly pro-drug banner”). Ibid.
Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg join, dissenting touched upon this theme, but only in a foot-note.
The Court’s opinion ignores the fact that the legalization of marijuana is an issue of considerable public concern in Alaska. The State Supreme Court held in 1975 that Alaska’s constitution protects the right of adults to possess less than four ounces of marijuana for personal use. Ravin v. State, 537 P. 2d 494 (Alaska). In 1990, the voters of Alaska attempted to undo that decision by voting for a ballot initiative recriminalizing marijuana possession. Initiative Proposal No. 2, §§1–2 (effective Mar. 3, 1991), 11 Alaska Stat., p. 872 (Lexis 2006). At the time Frederick unfurled his banner, the constitutionality of that referendum had yet to be tested. It was subsequently struck down as unconstitutional. See Noy v. State, 83 P. 3d 538 (Alaska App. 2003). In the meantime, Alaska voters had approved a ballot measure decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, 1998 Ballot Measure No. 8 (approved Nov. 3, 1998), 11 Alaska Stat., p. 882 (codified at Alaska Stat. §§11.71.090, 17.37.010–17.37.080), and had rejected a much broader measure that would have decriminalized marijuana possession and granted amnesty to anyone convicted of marijuana-related crimes, see 2000 Ballot Measure No. 5 (failed Nov. 7, 2000), 11 Alaska Stat., p. 886.Justice Thomas said that schools should be allowed to do just about anything to students that parents can. Yep, no freedom of speech for students.
Today, students have less freedom than they did yesterday.
“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”