Friday, May 29, 2009

Another Sotomayor-Connecticut Link

In addition to the New Haven firefighters promotion case, Sonia Sotomayor also participated in another Connecticut case, one concerning our right to free speech. Here's the story, from AP/NBC:

Sotomayor Ruled in "D-Bag Case"

12:16 PM EDT, Thu, May 28, 2009

President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy has yet another tie to Connecticut. She sided against a student in the infamous “douche bag” case, and that has upset some free-speech advocates.

In August 2007, Judge Sonia Sotomayor sat on a panel that ruled against an appeal in Doninger v. Niehoff.

Avery Doninger was disqualified from running for school government at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington after she posted something on her blog, referring to the superintendent and other officials as "douche bags" because they canceled a battle of the bands she had helped to organize.

The case went to court and in March 2008, Sotomayor was on a panel that heard Doninger’s mother’s appeal alleging her daughter’s free speech and other rights were violated. Her mother wanted to prevent the school from barring her daughter from running.

Sotomayor joined two other judges from the 2nd Circuit in ruling that the student’s off-campus blog remarks created a “foreseeable risk of substantial disruption” at the student’s high school and that the teenager was not entitled to a preliminary injunction reversing a disciplinary action against her, Education Week reports.

In their opinion, the judges said they were “sympathetic" to her disappointment at being disqualified from running for Senior Class Secretary and acknowledged her belief that in this case, “the punishment did not fit the crime.”

However, the judges decided they were not called upon to determine if school officials acted wisely.

“As the Supreme Court cautioned years ago, “[t]he system of public education that has evolved in this Nation relies necessarily upon the discretion and judgment of school administrators and school board members,” and we are not authorized to intervene absent “violations of specific constitutional guarantees.”

The ruling in this case has come under heavy criticism from some civil libertarians. Some say this case presents a solid rationale for rejecting Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals to fill the seat of retiring Justice David Souter.

“The continual expansion of the authority of school officials over student speech teaches a foul lesson to these future citizens,” Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, told the New Britain Herald. “I would prefer some obnoxious speech [rather] than teaching students that they must please government officials if they want special benefits or opportunities.”

Here's my question to you: Let's say you work for a company, and on your non-work blog you referred to company officials in a disparaging manner, would it be OK for you to be punished at work? For voicing your opinion, on your own time, from your own home, on a blog not connected to your workplace?


Karen Olson said...

But by making disparaging remarks about colleagues and supervisors on a personal blog, you're bringing it into the workplace. It's not just a "personal" blog anymore.

I get your point that we all need to have free speech, but would you walk up to your boss and call him an asshole to his face and not expect any repercussions? By writing it on the Internet, potentially hundreds of thousands of people can see you calling him an asshole.

It's best not to antagonize anyone you work for on the Internet. It's just common sense.

Al said...

By all means, true, it's not a good idea.

Plus, she could have been more articulate in expressing the same sentiment, then they would have had no valid complaint.

Maybe the whole "workplace" comparison throws it off.

A closer example would be another school-type activity. If a football player called a teacher a douchebag, would he be thrown off the team?

I'm not so much offended by her being punished, but more for the specific punishment, because it stops her from participating in something that we as adults should be happy a teenager is interested in pursuing. I'd rather see her get 2 weeks' detention, or mandatory community service or something.

Stopping her from participating in student government because she called school officials douchebags kind of proves her point, doesn't it? That is a very douchebag-like reaction.

Karen Olson said...

But free speech isn't necessarily calling someone a douchebag or any other disparaging name. Free speech is more being able to speak freely about one's own beliefs without being persecuted.

If she'd presented her case in an articulate manner, stating her case intelligently without name calling, I bet this would've turned out differently.