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Re-Decided: 3rd Circuit Will Reconsider Opposing MySpace Opinions

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 15, 2010 12:45 PM

As discussed in a prior post, two three-judge panels of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania ruled on two very similar MySpace cases in February of this year, coming to two dissimilar decisions. In the case of Layshock v. Hermitage School District and of J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, students posted parodies of their school principals on the social media site MySpace. In one case, the court found the parody was protected speech, in the other, it was not. Now the 3rd Circuit has decided to remedy this legally and "socially" awkward situation.

In both cases that came before the court of appeals, the students were disciplined by school authorities for their actions and in both cases they sued for violations of their First Amendment rights to free speech. In both cases the court applied the legal test of whether it felt the student speech took place on or off the school grounds and whether or not the speech disrupted the schools' educational purposes.

In the case of J.S., whose MySpace posting included "lewd and vulgar" content as well as the strong suggestion that the principal was a pedophile, the court found her speech was not protected by the First Amendment since it did have the potential to disrupt the school. In the case of Justin Layshock, however, the court applied the same legal test, but found in his case there was no disruption to the school. Therefore, the punishment Justin received amounted to a violation of his rights under the Constitution.

Please note that in both cases, the parents' claims that their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to direct the upbringing of their children with minimal interference from the state were struck down by the panels of judges.

Perhaps recognizing many legal experts' concern over the effect of opposing opinions as well as the wave of similar cases washing over courts throughout the country, the full nine judge bench of the 3rd circuit has vacated the opinions in both cases. According to Education Week's School Law Blog, the court decided on April 9 that oral arguments in both cases will be re-heard before the entire court on June 3. 

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