Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier | Study Guide

U.S. Supreme Court

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Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier | Quotes


This case concerns the extent to which educators may exercise editorial control over ... a high school newspaper produced as part of the school's journalism curriculum.

Justice Byron R. White

White opens the decision by framing the issue. Without stating that the First Amendment is involved, he suggests that this is a freedom of speech issue. By stating that the newspaper is part of the "journalism curriculum," he implies the reason the majority thinks Tinker does not apply.


They cannot be punished merely for expressing their personal views on the school premises.

Justice Byron R. White

Immediately after citing Tinker's affirmation of students' free speech rights, White signals that he sees limits to those rights. Schools cannot punish students for "expressing their personal views." That suggests they might be sanctioned for expressing other views.


Production of Spectrum was ... part of the educational curriculum, and a 'regular classroom activit[y].'

Justice Byron R. White

White makes the case that the school officials saw the newspaper as part of the curriculum. This lays the groundwork for his argument that content could thus be seen as "materially disrupting classwork"—one of the grounds set in Tinker for limiting student speech.


Whether the First Amendment requires a school to tolerate particular student speech ... is different from whether the First Amendment requires a school affirmatively to promote particular student speech.

Justice Byron R. White

White distinguishes between Tinker and Hazelwood. He says the question in Tinker was whether schools must allow certain student speech. Tinker centered on students expressing their personal views, outside of a particular class or activity. Hazelwood is about student speech in a school-sponsored context. White describes the question in Hazelwood as whether the First Amendment means that schools have to take certain actions, such as publishing student articles. White argues that the difference between the two contexts allows for the difference between the two decisions.


Tinker ... addresses educators' ability to silence a personal expression that happens to occur on the school premises.

Justice Byron R. White

White's description of the students' actions in Tinker seems to counter the facts of the case, as they deliberately came to school wearing their armbands in protest of the war in Vietnam. That is, the "personal expression" did not just "happen" to take place at school. Brennan, in his dissent, objects that the personal nature of the speech was not what the majority in Tinker had upheld.


Educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over ... student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities ... [if] their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.

Justice Byron R. White

Here White states the core legal principle of the decision. School officials can control speech that is part of "school-sponsored expressive activities." In this category, he includes "a school-sponsored publication, theatrical production, or other vehicle of student expression."


The students who had written and edited these articles had not sufficiently mastered ... portions of the Journalism II curriculum.

Justice Byron R. White

White takes a swipe at the students, saying that their plan to include the articles showed they still had much to learn. He states three lessons: "the treatment of controversial issues and personal attacks, the need to protect the privacy of individuals, ... and the legal, moral, and ethical restrictions imposed upon [school] journalists." Brennan dismantles this argument in his dissent when he points out that the principal made no effort to convey these important lessons.


No violation of First Amendment rights occurred.

Justice Byron R. White

To the majority, the principal's actions do not infringe upon students' rights. This case opened the doors to increased censorship of school newspapers, according to the Student Press Law Center.


This case arose when the Hazelwood East administration breached its own promise, dashing its students' expectations.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

Brennan sharply criticizes the principal for betraying the promise made in Spectrum's statement of principles, which explicitly supports students' First Amendment rights. That statement was tacitly accepted by the school administration, Brennan says.


If mere incompatibility with the school's pedagogical message were a constitutionally sufficient justification for the suppression of student speech, school officials could censor each of the students or student organizations.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

Brennan uses the technique of introducing counterfactuals to argue against the majority. First he posits situations in which school officials would clearly have no grounds for limiting speech. Then he claims that the majority's decision is a similar example. Brennan uses censor or censorship more than 20 times in his dissent, emphasizing his strong disapproval of the principal's actions.


The Court offers no more than an obscure tangle of three excuses to afford educators 'greater control' over school-sponsored speech.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

Brennan scoffs at White's defense of the principal's actions, labeling his rationale as mere "excuses." He aims harsh language at the majority and the principal at several points in his dissent.


The lesson was lost on all but the psychic Spectrum staffer.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

In dismissing the principal's half-hearted attempts to explain his actions, Brennan undercuts the majority's position that cutting the two pages had a pedagogical purpose. The principal's explanation was so poor, he writes, that a student would need psychic powers to make the necessary inference.


Without so much as acknowledging the less oppressive alternatives, the Court approves of brutal censorship.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

Brennan argues that the principal could have chosen another course of action—or at least tried to. The majority accepts the principal's argument that he keenly felt the press of time, which limited his options. Brennan's disagreement with the majority here shows that how justices perceive the actors in a case can influence how they view the case. His use of the word "brutal" indicates the strength of his feelings about the majority's decision.


That is an ironic introduction to an opinion that denudes high school students of much of the First Amendment protection that Tinker itself prescribed.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

After noting that the majority claims to uphold the main finding in Tinker, Brennan complains about the impact of its decision. The majority is not upholding Tinker, he says, but abandoning it. Brennan's view was echoed by groups, such as the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, that promote First Amendment rights.


The young men and women of Hazelwood East expected a civics lesson, but not the one the Court teaches them today.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

Brennan closes with a rhetorical flourish. This statement contrasts with the opening to his dissent, which said that the Hazelwood students expected a civics lesson when they started their journalism class. The conclusion reflects his sad view that the lesson they learned is that the majority is unwilling to support their constitutional rights.

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