The Supreme Court issued a mixed opinion in the case of Morse v. Frederick, allowing censorship of student speech that promotes illegal drug use while affirming the core principle that political speech questioning the wisdom of the war on drugs is constitutionally protected. The case focused on Joseph Frederick, who was suspended in 2002 from a high school in Alaska after displaying a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner during a class trip to see the Olympic torch parade pass by.
Justice Alito in his concurring opinion, joined by Justice Kennedy, makes clear that he only joins the majority in so far as it protects speech "that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as 'the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use."
"We take mild comfort that the decision clearly protects speech challenging the war on drugs. Never before has the Supreme Court stated so clearly that speech attacking the wisdom of the war on drugs is protected wherever it may occur," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
"But who is going to decide what is appropriate speech? Students are on the front lines of the war on drugs, and we are deeply concerned that free speech will now be administered by those who may wish to suppress open discussion on a range of topics such as the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program, school drug testing policies, or random locker searches," said Abrahamson. "Our Constitutionally protected rights to free speech shouldn't have an arbitrary drug war exception."
As Justice Stevens recognized in his dissent: "Even in high school, a rule that permits only one point of view to be expressed is less likely to produce correct answers than the open discussion of countervailing views." The First Amendment should not be curtailed by a "nonsense banner" containing "an oblique reference to drugs," lamented Stevens, who was joined by Ginsburg and Souter.