Friday, March 16, 2018
The Fourth Circuit ruled this week in Kenny v. Wilson that a group of primary and secondary school students had standing to lodge a facial First Amendment challenge against South Carolina's "Disturbing Schools Law" and "Disorderly Conduct Law." The ruling says nothing about the merits, however; that's for remand. (Although it's kind of hard to see how these laws aren't unconstitutionally vague.)
The laws are basically what their titles imply. The Disturbing Schools Law makes it unlawful
(1) for any person willfully or unnecessarily (a) to intefere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State, (b) or loiter about such school or college premises or (c) to act in an obnoxious manner thereon; or
(2) for any person to (a) enter upon any such school or college premises or (b) loiter around the premises, except on business, without the permission of the principal or president in charge.
The Disorderly Conduct Law says:
Any person who shall (a) be found on any highway or at any public place or public gathering in a grossly intoxicated condition or otherwise conducting himself in a disorderly or boisterous manner, (b) use obscene or profane language on any highway or at any public place or gathering or in hearing distance of any schoolhouse or church . . . shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than one hundred dollars or be imprisoned for not more than thirty days.
Plaintiffs-students lodged facial vagueness challenges to the laws, after they were disciplined for violations. But they sought declaratory and injunctive relief, not damages, so standing became an issue.
The court said that they had standing, for two independent reasons. First, the court said that they had standing under Babbitt v. Farm Workers, because "[t]hey attend school without knowing which of their actions could lead to a criminal conviction," and "there is a credible threat of future enforcement" that's not "imaginary or wholly speculative." Next, the court said they had standing because the plaintiffs alleged an "ongoing injury in fact" based on a "sufficient showing of self-censorship, which occurs when a claimant is chilled from exercising his right to free expression."